Everyday Heroes: Tech Teacher

Posted on April 1, 2001 
Filed Under Anita, Reader's Digest

By Anita Devasahayam

Tiong Ting Ming was waiting to catch a bus in Kuala Lumpur in February 2000 when a young man sat next to him and asked for money. When Tiong said he had none to offer, the man produced a knife. Even though the would-be thief looked desperate for cash, Tiong never felt in serious danger, so he decided to reason with him.

He explained that he was a school principal who had just travelled to Singapore to buy parts for the computers at his school. For 20 minutes, he talked about why it was important for young people to get an education. When it was clear that the young man wasn’t going to get any money, he shook his head and left.

Tiong Ting Ming
High-tech dreams - Tiong Ting Ming transformed his school. Photo: © Julian Matthews.

Tiong wasn’t going to let a thief stand in the way of his dream of turning SMJK Dindings, a secondary school in the village of Pundut, 100 kilometers west of lpoh, into a high-tech learning centre. He had come too far and achieved too much. When he became principal in 1992, the school was a ramshackle set of wooden buildings. There were 320 students, and the number was falling. “They were dropping out to help with their families’ businesses,” he recalls. “School was not a priority.”

After becoming a teacher in 1977, Tiong had developed an interest in computers. By the time he arrived at Dindings, he realised that new technology was changing the way the world communicated and did business. To give his students an opportunity to break out of their rural poverty, he introduced courses in computer hardware and software, programming, networking and the Internet. Many teachers and parents resisted the changes, but the students enthusiastically embraced Tiong’s ideas. When he started a computer club, more than 100 youngsters signed up.

To get equipment, Tiong lobbied tech companies in Malaysia for donations. Many contributed old, unwanted computers, which he and his students repaired in their spare time. Others, impressed by Tiong’s dedication and enthusiasm, wrote cheques. So far he has raised more than $470,000. The school has a new building wired with the latest high-speed Internet connections, and every student has access to a computer.

Thanks to Dindings’ growing reputation, it now has 900 students. One of them is Zulkifli Mohamed, a 17-year-old who plans to start a Web design business when he graduates. Without Tiong’s guidance, he says, “I would never have been able to acquire the computer skills I now have.”

Tiong, a 49-year-old father of three, says he wants to give his students the tools to go on learning for the rest of their lives, so they’ll always be able to find the information they need to survive and prosper. Like a computer-age Confucian, he adds: “I’m teaching kids to be paddy planters - not just rice eaters.”

Published in Reader’s Digest, Asia edition, April 2001 issue.

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