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From the perspective of someone born and raised in Sarawak, who studied and taught there, what are the biggest obstacles to getting a quality education in that state?
Wow. This is a tough question. So many factors that comes into play and I don’t believe there is just one answer. From the vastness of the state’s geographical size, which contributes to the access (or lack thereof) to the inner regions of Sarawak, to the different cultures and languages of the 20-30 racial groups, there is just so many factors that come to play. Each student’s challenge is different depending on the circumstances that surround them, however, in my opinion, the biggest obstacle as a whole would be access in the most general sense. Access to further developmental experience, access for rural students to be able to bridge the gap they have with urban students, access to role models that can show them the endless possibilities out there in the world…

What are the biggest challenges faced by teachers who do end up in Sarawak?
I would say there are 2 things that may serve as a challenge: Culture/Language and to a certain extent (based on where you are placed) the rurality of schools. Each state, city, village has its own unique culture attached to it and similarly, Sarawak has its own unique culture as well. Within the broad topic of culture, I would say the diversity of different races and the languages that they speak is definitely something that needs to be overcome. As for the rurality of schools, with Sarawak being the largest state in Malaysia, it is inevitable that there are many rural schools to cater to the communities in the inner regions of the state. Some of the schools are so rural, a trip there would require a plane ride, 2 (or more) boat rides AND trekking through jungles. Should a teacher be placed there, access to the outside world (medical care, internet, phone line, all other perks of civilisation) would be a big challenge and couple that with cultural differences would serve as an uphill task.
How do you think the issues you mentioned above can be resolved?
To be honest, I don’t think I have the concrete answer to this. But what I know is that collaboration is KEY in finding solutions. When collaboration happens different parties bring different knowledge to the table thus speeding up the process to provide excellent education to the children of Sarawak.

All this can happen only when we start learning listening to one another. Everyone has something to offer to help elevate the quality of education; and the faster we come to this realisation, the quicker things will get going.

In what way do you think Teach For Malaysia can be part of the solution for Sarawak?
As of now, I see 3 main ways that Teach for Malaysia can contribute to being part of the solution:

  • Recruiting top Malaysian graduates with strong leadership potential who are passionate about the country’s education to consider teaching as an avenue to train and develop their leadership skills. This can than translate into systemic changes (larger impact) within and beyond the education community.
  • As “Collaboration” is one of the Core Values of Teach for Malaysia (TFM), I personally believe that TFM can be a catalyst for collaboration within the Sarawak education community. Being witness to some of the collaborative efforts involving the organisation so far, and the positive actions that come to fruition because of it, I do see the value in TFM keeping this collaborative posture and constantly seeking out opportunities where we can work with other educationists to bridge the gap.
  • Being part of a global network has its perks. As part of the Teach for All Network, we have access to knowledge and best practices from around the world though our ever growing list of network partners, all of which could be valuable information to help with the local solution here. There is a famous saying coined up by one of the Teach for All founders, Wendy Kopp that goes, “If the problems are universal, then the solutions are shareable.”

What advice or encouragement would you give to a prospective young leader considering teaching in Sarawak?
Hmmm… if there is one main advice I would give, it would be : “Be open to learning everything.”

Learn about the different cultures of the tribes in Sarawak. Learn about the educational landscape of the state and how it looks like within the Malaysia’s education landscape. Learn about yourself as you prepare to be the best leader that you can be. Learn about your strengths and how you can continue to sharpen it. Learn about the areas of development so that it won’t be your stumbling block to success. Learn about your peers and how this network of leaders can one day bring positive changes to our nation.

Basically, be open to learning everything, BUT don’t stop there. Put all this learning into PRACTICE and be the change you want to be.

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Sarah Lasung is a Senior Leadership Development Officer with Teach For Malaysia, a qualified teacher who has taught in Sarawak – and is herself a proud Sarawakian. Here, she shares the challenges she sees to receiving a quality education in her home state — and what can be done about them.

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