OLD pictures often tell a lot. And this group photograph of teachers at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) in 1970 should do well to inspire the country's education planners to chart a return to the bygone days of celebrated schooling.
Take a good look at the 37-year-old picture with the names of the teachers captioned in its original form. It speaks for itself, so it's best to leave it at that, lest comments are taken in the wrong context and get misconstrued. The only mention that could be made, however, is that the headmaster then was Datuk Syed Abu Bakar Barakbah (seated eighth from left), sandwiched between chemistry specialist P.A. Norton on his right and historian Muzaffar Desmond Tate on his left.
They and the rest were among the many teachers of the old school serving throughout the country then whose dedication and teaching methods were exemplary.
Due to the many changes that have taken place in the country and its education system since 1970, it would be unfair and unrealistic to expect all of the nearly 340,000 teachers of today to have the same stature or personality.
That should be an A for effort.
For instance, there is the programme called the Malaysian Teaching Standard, launched six months ago, which aims to produce excellent teachers who are not only dedicated but also have intellectual minds. Among others, the system includes regular evaluation which will identify teachers in need of knowledge enhancement, skills and personality.
In an interview with this paper not too long ago, former education director-general Tan Sri Dr Abdul Rahman Arshad emphasised several times that teachers held the key to the country's future -- throwing a simple question to prove his point: "How can mediocre teachers produce the best students?"
And two months ago, Prof Datuk Dr Aminah Ayob, the new vice-chancellor of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, the country's only university of education, spoke about the Malaysian Educators Selection Inventory designed to select the most appropriate candidates for the profession.
Under this method, academic results are not the only criteria for selection because candidates will have to sit for an entrance test, after which they will be interviewed and assessed on confidence, communication skills, participation in co-curricular activities and other talents.
Efforts are also being made by the ministry to bring the shine back to the teaching profession so that it would no longer be regarded as "a job of the last resort".
Salaries and allowances, a sore point for many years, have been reviewed to the point that teachers are now said to be better paid than their counterparts in most other sections of the civil service.
It remains a hope at this stage for group photographs of teachers of today to look like the one taken in 1970.