How SK Ulu Lubai came out tops
WHEN SK Ulu Lubai (SKUL) headmaster Jaul Bunyau introduced the first “Speak English Monday” in his school, it failed miserably. The reason: no one, including the teachers, uttered a single word that day, as none wanted to be seen making the first clumsy move.
“So, the Speak English Day practically became Silent Day,” says teacher Marlina Zaini, 29, who was posted to the school five years ago. “Before the English ruling, teachers spoke to the students in Malay, they answered in Iban, and they used Iban with their friends. In fact, it was the teachers who ended up learning Iban from the students.”
That was in 2004, six years after Jaul became the headmaster of this remote school in the Limbang division, which is the furthest division from Kuching, the state capital. Today, if one were to visit the school, they would be pleasantly surprised to find that all the pupils can greet them confidently in English, and hold a conversation with teachers and visitors in English, too.
The transformation led by Jaul, 48, was slow but steady. “In those early days, students had to walk around carrying dictionaries in order to communicate with each other as well as with teachers. We were instructed to ignore students if they spoke to us in anything but English,” says Rita Rinai Maripa, the school’s senior assistant who is now into her 10th year at the school.
It is encouraging to note that no student from Ulu Lubai failed English in the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) for the past eight years (2003-2010). This transformation from a community which is largely demetrius Ivan Kim Lee, 11, helping preschooler etyson Ipan, 6, with his phonetics. SKuL aims to ensure that its year One pupils are able to read within a year of entering school. monolingual (Iban) into a bilingual and even trilingual one, happened largely due to Jaul’s vision of doing things differently for a remote outpost which houses four Iban longhouses with a combined population of around 650.
“The school started off with the Speak Malay campaign in 2003, just to get everyone out of their comfort zone before embarking on the journey towards English as the de facto spoken language six months later,” says Rita.
The children are as friendly as those you would expect when you venture into the heartland areas of Malaysia. As a visitor, I am greeted with cheerful cries of “Good morning, sir” wherever I go.
The students are used to visitors, and are definitely not camera shy. In fact, they are so comfortable that they do not appear to be distracted by my presence, though being the lone visitor during my four-day visit to the school, I am naturally the object of interest to the older students, who confidently but respectfully ask for my name, in English, of course.
It is indeed a pleasant surprise to find children in such a remote part of the country conversing with each other in English with none of the awkwardness or shyness of rural schoolchildren in other parts of the country.
The emphasis on English aside, SKUL is obsessed with ensuring that its Year One pupils be able to read and count within a year of entering school, in line with the Education Ministry’s thrust of 3M (reading, writing, and counting) for primary school students.
As part of improving its academic achievement, Jaul also went on a mini-crusade against unrestricted television watching, even though it is one of the main ways in which rural communities keep abreast with current developments. But the television was also a major distraction for the children from what was truly important: homework and revision. “We found that as a result of uncontrolled television viewing, the students did not do their homework. The Parent-Teacher Association then persuaded the longhouse folks to supervise their children’s homework sessions first, before everyone could watch TV.
“Naturally, there was resistance in the beginning, with some parents arguing that since they had paid for their Astro subscriptions, they should not be denied their enjoyment. But in the end, everyone saw the dividends of tight supervision, and they are the ones now helping to keep an eye on their children’s TV viewing habits.”
In 2006, Jaul was introduced to the widely-hailed 2005 management book, Blue
Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. “The book was quite pricey, but I managed to get a copy,” says Jaul, who continues to update himself with the latest management books and exhorts his teachers to read the same.
Distilling the essence of what he believed would work, Jaul cajoled and coaxed his staff to overcome the fear of change, as well as to discard the mentality that change is always negative. “The eradication of the 4M culture ( malas,
malu, manja and monyok or laziness, shyness, the desire to be pampered, and a tendency to easily give up) also extends to teachers, and non-performing ones do not last long in this school,” says Rita.
Indeed, teachers at Ulu Lubai cannot get away sitting in their staff room, moping about how isolated the place is, or how tough their living conditions are.
“It has been ingrained in us that we cannot wait for things to happen, or wait for things to fall on our laps from the sky. Somehow, we have to make things happen,” says Stephanie Lim Leng, 26, the youngest teacher in the school who is now eight months into her first posting.
With restrictions on television at home, the corresponding challenge is making the school so attractive and conducive that the students will want to spend long hours there, rather than loiter around the village aimlessly. For that, SKUL teachers have to work extra hard in meeting the needs of their students, and thankfully, the parents readily throw in their weight to assist whenever possible.
SKUL is now reaping the harvest of the teachers’ pushing and prodding. Over the past decade, its achievements have been impressive by any standard. In 2002, the school recorded a 78% pass in the UPSR. The passing rate rose to 80% in 2005, and has been at 100% since 2006.
Jaul’s efforts at raising standards is clearly evident, even to the students. What Mismona Manggai, 13, who scored 5As in the 2010 UPSR, liked about her old school is that the teachers are totally dedicated to their craft.
“They do not discriminate against children who hail from the ‘interior’. The school’s clean and safe environment is also very inviting and it is relatively well equipped. Furthermore, the headmaster is also very devoted to his students,” says the bubbly girl who is now in Form One at SM Sains Labuan.
Buoyed by the improvements they saw in their children after attending extra classes in school and watching less television, parents now take a keen interest in the school, with the PTA meetings always well-attended. The school’s notices and announcements are displayed prominently on the notice boards of