By John Isaac
THE lack of teachers and facilities remains the biggest hurdle in teaching English in rural Sarawak.
Speaking to FMT in conjunction with English Language Day, two Sarawak educationists outlined the various challenges they face in teaching English in the rural areas.
Much of the interior of Sarawak – Malaysia’s largest state – remains inaccessible with no connecting roads, leaving local populations almost solely reliant on rivers for transport, which has made it harder to attract teachers.
“We need English language teachers, that is the main thing. A lot of schools in the interior are lacking such teachers,” said Jonathan Chai, chairman of the Federation of Boards of Management for SJK Chung Hua of Kuching, Samarahan and Serian divisions.
“A lot of young graduates, especially from teachers’ training colleges or universities, are not willing, or are reluctant, to get posted to rural areas.
“The education ministry must think of ways to ensure that there are enough trained teachers to cater to the needs of students in the rural areas.”
Speaking to reporters in Kuching last December, state education, science and technological research minister Michael Manyin Jawong said there was a 30% shortage of English teachers in the state.
Overall, he said, there was a shortage of nearly 2,200 teachers in primary and secondary schools throughout Sarawak.
Chai said children in urban areas tend to have a better grasp of English as many are from families whose parents are professionals, thus providing them a more conducive environment to learn the language.
He also said urban areas provide more opportunities for children to learn the language at a younger age, either at nurseries or kindergartens, with tuition centres aiding their development in later years.
Umie Liau, an activist from Hulu Rajang who conducts a free mobile English clinic for primary school pupils at the Bakun resettlement scheme in Sungai Asap, Belaga, explained how she had to “go back to basics” as a teacher.
While there are children who pick up the language very fast because of their strong desire to learn, she said, there are those who may not be as interested because of factors such as parental pressure.
Umie said although parents in rural areas are keen for their children to acquire skills in English as it would put them in good stead in the future, she agreed with Chai that the urban-rural gap made it difficult for rural children to adapt to the language naturally.
“Many years ago, I taught at a secondary school in Sibu, and although I wasn’t teaching English, the children were better able to capture what was being taught,” she said.
“Right now, I wish I could have all the facilities I need, like a mobile library, people who have the same desire to bring transformation to young people, and a legacy I can leave behind.”