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.
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,