With all their hearts

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

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

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