Semalam di Malaya

I write this on the verge of a new academic year–3rd year of the DPhil, phew!–freshly emerging from self-isolation. Despite arriving in the UK in mid-September, a day after Malaysia Day, I have been cooped up in my room per the public health advice. I pace about in a liminal space, though the abrupt change in geography (or maybe the lack of distraction?) helped me focus a little bit more on thinking and writing. Outside my room, a flimsy apple tree is battered by wind, cold and rain, shedding premature fruit for respite. A reminder of resilience. The gentle buzz of trains gliding on the tracks beyond the fence remind me that life carries on, somehow, amidst the persistence of a worldwide pandemic. When the time comes, journeys must commence…

Much has happened since I last written*. I endured lockdown in Malaysia, and against the odds managed to return to my field site to finish my research–a dream-like experience of bearing witness to schooling amidst a pandemic. Fieldwork as a whole was an enriching experience, and I am grateful I was able to properly ‘leave’ the field, though have I really? A concrete grasp on time & place eludes me, the pandemic further muddying this feeling. At once I feel like I have spent too much/not enough time in Malaysia. I have physically departed from the site of my fieldwork, gifts were exchanged, photos were captured. But relations endure in the online ether, and in memory. I convince myself I will return. Silaturrahim yang dibina tidak putus…

*this piece of writing has since been turned into a podcast!

A beautiful painting gifted by the art teacher at the school where I conducted my fieldwork. One of the many, many gestures of kindness I will forever cherish!

In between, I participated in a virtual doctoral network among peers in science education research to get feedback on my work, had an article published in Common Ground Journal, and launched an exciting project on Comparative and International Education (CIE) in Malaysia. While completing fieldwork, I continued to work on a few publications currently in the pipeline, vibrating to the rhythm of peer review. A collaborative endeavour with my knowledge-making partners during our first year of the DPhil will soon be out in the world–a book chapter for The Bloomsbury Handbook of Theory in CIE. It’s surreal to think we have come this far since then. Once again time plays its tricks…

Now that I am back in Oxford, I will spend the upcoming year sorting through the fruits of fieldwork, analysing the data and slowly writing a thesis. I have also been given an opportunity to serve as a Doctoral Teaching Fellow in my department, collaborating with MSc in CIE students on their research methods modules. Slowly an academic identity percolates–I mull over my teaching philosophy.

Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Freire

Being an alumnus of this programme, an opportunity to reciprocate feels a bit like homecoming, coupled with the strange process of reacquainting with this town after a year away. Between teaching, taking an advanced qualitative methods class and writing a thesis, there is much to look forward to. Here’s to the new academic year, with its tentative shape in a world yet to catch its breath. Will academia emerge kinder, more just and committed to practices of care in hybridised institutions and relations? Time will tell…


Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition). New York: Continuum.

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