What do you see as being the biggest obstacle to students receiving a quality education in Sarawak?
The difference between Sarawak & the Peninsula is how displaced our schools are. This is one of the biggest obstacles to students receiving a quality education.
People need to be aware that Sarawak is as big as the entire peninsula Malaysia. However, we are not as developed as the peninsula. A large part of Sarawak is semi-rural or rural. Schools in those areas are still reachable by some kind of tar, dirt or stone road access. That’s not all. There are also a large number of schools in Sarawak which require long arduous journeys on 4WDs, boats, small airplanes & even jungle trekking.
Even though there are schools there, the children are still at a disadvantage because many of them only start to read & write when they get to school at the age of 6 or 7. They miss a sensitive period for acquiring language & only start learning English & Malay at school. That is why so many children struggle with these languages.
Being located where they are, almost everything that they learn at school has no real world application. They do not use English, Malay, Science & Mathematics in their environment. They will also find it hard to connect what they learn with what they want to do in the future. Everything they learn at school is theory & they will have to memorise to do well in the assessments.
Many would much rather quit school, apply themselves in manual labour in the cities for a pittance without realising that their wages will not increase with their age. Some will quit school & stay at home. Some of the girls will be married off in a hurry & start a family before their friends even graduate from secondary school.
In your experience, why would teachers choose not to go to Sarawak? What challenges make it difficult to teach there?
Many teachers choose not to go to Sarawak simply because it is far away from their homes. Like I mentioned before, Sarawak is very big. Teachers can come from one end of the state & teach at the other end. Not to mention the teachers from peninsula Malaysia who have to cross the South China Sea at great cost. Sometimes, they have family commitments which require them to care for their families at home. Sometimes, they have medical issues & need to be close to medical attention. Sometimes, they want to be in their comfort zones. All good reasons for not choosing to go to Sarawak.
If I were to be completely honest, the biggest challenge any teacher anywhere has to overcome is firstly his or herself. The homesickness, the family commitments, the loss of friends, the strangeness of the new land, and the backward look of our underdeveloped state can have a very powerful effect on the subconscious of a teacher.
Having said that, there are a lot of great teachers here from both the peninsula & Sarawak. They have made their mark here & done a great service to the children of Sarawak. They are also my inspiration & I am grateful for them.
What can be done to resolve those issues, in your opinion?
Perhaps it is time to consider recruiting more teachers from Sabah & Sarawak so that they can be placed back to their home states. Perhaps trainees should also be adequately prepared for life in Sarawak. Not as a joke or a scare tactic but as a higher calling and a valid career path. Stoke in them a passion to serve & to fight for what is right.
What would your advice be to someone considering a teaching career in Sarawak specifically?
If you haven’t written off Sarawak & are already considering teaching here, thank you. There are many who may not even consider Sarawak a part of Malaysia. There are few rewards for teaching here. You will be far away from your family & friends. You will be far away from your support system. Your friends will wonder what the heck you’re doing with your life. Your parents will wonder if they wasted a fortune on your education. I haven’t even mentioned the disruptive students, the massive paper museums, office politics and the lack of support you will get at school.
Obviously, it will not be easy. But if think you’re pretty smart, you’re idealistic & you want to change the world, come. Prove yourself against a real challenge. Come to Sarawak. We welcome you.