Lubai’s leap to the top

SK Ulu Lubai (SKUL) at­tracts awards like a mag­net, but it wasn’t al­ways that way. In fact, the school was closed down in 1976 be­cause no teacher would ac­cept a post­ing there.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By MENG YEW CHOONG star @thes­

ONCE upon a time, there was a pri­mary school in the in­te­rior of Sarawak that was so iso­lated, with work­ing con­di­tions so harsh, that no teacher would ac­cept a post­ing there. The sit­u­a­tion be­came so bad that the au­thor­i­ties de­cided to close the school.

The par­ents, shocked that their chil­dren were left with­out a school, pe­ti­tioned for months for it to be re­opened. And it did a year later in 1977.

The story of SK Ulu Lubai, or SKUL, might have ended there be­cause in Sarawak there are no fewer than 430 schools that fall un­der the “re­mote school” cat­e­gory. Its prob­lems, af­ter all, are no dif­fer­ent from many other ru­ral schools – lack of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, poor in­fra­struc­ture, sur­rounded by poverty, etc, etc.

But it did not end there, thanks to one man. He came as a teacher and stayed on and went on to be­come SKUL’s head­mas­ter. It took Jaul Bun­yau years but his de­ter­mi­na­tion and hard work paid off when the school was recog­nised by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry as the best pri­mary school in Malaysia for 2010 and as a high per­for­mance school ( Seko­lah Berprestasi Tinggi) this year.

Not only that, the school won an­other in­ter­na­tional award last month – the Wenhui Award for Ed­u­ca­tional In­no­va­tion. Given by the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Unesco) of­fice in Bangkok, Wenhui cel­e­brates the power of ed­u­ca­tion in pro­mot­ing learn­ing and al­low­ing in­di­vid­u­als and cul­tures to in­no­vate and grow. SKUL beat 15 other nom­i­nees to the award, which was con­ferred on two in­di­vid­u­als or in­sti­tu­tions from Asia and the Pa­cific re­gion.

How did head­mas­ter Jaul achieve that? In terms of in­fra­struc­ture, SKUL con­sists of just two blocks of nat­u­rally-ven­ti­lated wooden struc­tures built on con­crete stilts with only a small foot­ball field and a ba­sic sand­pit as recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties.

Yet, at Ulu Lubai, stu­dents run to school, and walk home.

“No one is in a hurry to go home,’’ says El­mar Tom, a teacher who taught at the school from 2006 to 2010.

The stu­dents spend more than 10 hours a day there will­ingly. The school is clearly an ex­ten­sion of home; all the chil­dren live just a few min­utes away.

The fact that the school is thriv­ing is even more re­mark­able when one re­alises that the tough con­di­tions that caused it to close once have not changed much.

The class­rooms look a tad bet­ter than the teach­ers’ quar­ters which are in need of some se­ri­ous re­fur­bish­ment (one block looks ready to col­lapse any time soon). And SKUL is still as dif­fi­cult to reach as it was in 1964, the year it opened.

Lo­cated 60km away by road from the town of Lim­bang in east­ern Sarawak and about 800km from the state cap­i­tal Kuch­ing, teach­ers have to rely mainly on long boats to get to the school.

SKUL sits on rel­a­tively flat ground just next to Sun­gai Lubai, a trib­u­tary of Sun­gai Lim­bang which emp­ties into the South China Sea at a point close to Lim­bang town. The school is some­times partly-sub­merged when the river over­flows dur­ing the wet sea­son. Dur­ing the dry sea­son, the river can be shal­low enough for one to just wade across.

When the school closed for a year in 1976,

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