With all their hearts
Handouts can’t change a community; what you need is a shift in mindset.
THE other outstanding school in Limbang is located in an even more remote part of the Limbang division, known as the Bario Highlands. By flight, Ba Kelalan is only 30 minutes away from Lawas, the nearest town. However, land access is via a 125km former logging trail, a journey which takes at least six hours when conditions are good. Conditions turn treacherous during the rainy season, where the journey can turn into a two-day (or more) uphill climb against a stream of mud.
With slightly over 100 students from a few villages surrounding the school, SK Ba Kelalan qualifies as “remote” under the P3 category, where teachers posted there get RM1,500 as hardship allowance on top of their salary. (SK Ulu Lubai teachers get RM1,000 in allowance.) Within the context of this isolation, SK Ba Kelalan emerged from obscurity when it managed to haul itself out of a 20-odd per cent passing rate in the UPSR in the 1990s to consistently surpass 90% in the past few years.
Like in Ulu Lubai, the extensive level of community participation before the turn of the millennium had raised academic standards for its students, despite the difficult circumstances.
By pooling their resources, mainly time and energy, the villagers of Ba Kelalan had made the school, led by headmaster Pudun Tadam, 56, for the past 13 years, a much more pleasant place for studying. According to the Commonwealth Secretariat, which honoured the school in 2009 for its good practices in mobilising the community to contribute voluntary service and making the school a more orderly place for children, the joint effort of all stakeholders had “improved the quality of education despite the difficult circumstances faced in education delivery”.
According to Pudun, money does not always have to be the central figure in the equation. “While the school didn’t have (the financial) resources, it was able to get the community to help out because they started to trust us. We promised that if they help us, we will work to move our school from the bottom 10 in the district to the top 10.
“And we delivered that through being strategic and putting our hearts into it. My message to those in difficult circumstances is that giving people money alone is not enough to cause change in marginalised communities. You have to change the mindset. That’s what happened in our community.” –MengYew Choong