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Opportunities That Transform Education in Sabah

It has come to the last month of year 2017 and of course, this is also the time where I will normally clear my annual leave. So I decided to take leave every Friday not just as my year end routine but also to spare some time doing things that I like.

Sabah has always been a second home to me as I love the friendly community, fresh seafood and beautiful beaches. Despite frequently travelling to Sabah and meeting many teachers along the way, with my hectic work schedule, many times I do not have the opportunity to speak to them. Since I have some time to spare now, I decided to find out more about education in Sabah so I can effectively drive grassroots innovation movement in schools.

A friend recommended me to get more information from Cikgu Kasmah, an ex-teacher who had been teaching for more than 16 years. With such experience, I guess she might be the right person I can speak to. While she was in Kuala Lumpur last week, I grabbed the opportunity to give her a call and met in one of the cafe around the city.

Kasmah, a 55 years old ex-teacher and a mother of 5 children was born in a family of 6 siblings. Her father was a farmer and mother a cook. Life was challenging back then and sometimes it was almost impossible for herself and some of her classmates to attend school due to insufficiency in life. However, she was one student whom with her hard work managed to challenge the norm and completed her Form Six education with full scholarship.

From left: Kamsah & I

Kasmah studied in Sekolah Kebangsaan Pekan Tuaran, whereby upon getting good results in Primary 3, she was transferred to Sekolah Rendah St John, receiving subsidy from the government to continue her primary education. With her hard work, Yayasan Sabah offered her to continue secondary education for 5 years in Sekolah Agama Alawiyah Arau, Perlis before she was sent to Maktab Adabi to complete her Form 6 education in Terengganu, all fully sponsored by the foundation.

However, having to shoulder the responsibility of providing financial support to her 2 younger siblings who were still studying, she was not able to continue her education in university and therefore had to start working as a clerk in Bank Negara. She started as “Guru Sandaran Tidak Terlatih” in SMK Telupid, Lahad Datu not long after that when her husband was transferred to Sabah for work.

“My parents worked very hard to feed the family, so being the fairly educated one I must do my part too”

Throughout her career as a teacher, she taught Bahasa Melayu and Maths in more than 4 schools in Sabah; from school in Lahad Datu to Tenom then back to teaching in her hometown Tuaran. Her last school before assuming duty as Officer in Tuaran District Education is Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Seri Nangka where she taught for 12 years. With her determination to continually learn, she managed to obtain Sijil Perguruan and Degree in Bahasa Melayu either via weekend classes or distance learning during her 16 years of teaching career in Sabah.

“Opportunities were scare back then, so I grabbed as much as I can by being different from my peers”

Being in her mid 50’s now, she believes improving the education delivery system, technological know-how & skills of teachers can open up endless opportunities for them to deliver high quality education to the local community. However, there are still some parents, especially those living near the coastal area, find it challenging sending their children to school, let alone giving them good education. Many lack money to even pay for their children transportation and buy their school necessities.

According to Kasmah, the quality of education received, despite is the same throughout Malaysia is still not conducive enough to prepare local children to be at par with those living in the city. Many are still deprived of the opportunity to learn new knowledge such as robotics and adopt inquiry based science education (IBSE). There’s serious lack of such expertise in Sabah that is critical to enrich knowledge of teachers. While Malaysia is advancing to become a high income nation, many Sabahans are still lagging far behind.

Opportunities That Transform Education in Sabah

“Two years ago, when I know that one of our parliament representative was appointed as Minister of Science, Technology & Innovation, I was thrilled”, said Kasmah. I knew something extraordinary is going to happen here in Tuaran.

Just as what she expected, today IBSE teaching style has been made a pilot project in the Tuaran District Education (PPD), thanks to the effort made by YB Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau. Forty teachers from Tuaran schools, selected as “Science Ambassadors”, were trained in IBSE workshop, facilitated by two French IBSE experts Professor Yves Quere and Ms Ann Laperdrix.

Madius with a group of Science teachers who received IBSE training in Tuaran – The Science Ambassadors

“Looking at Madius reminded me of my struggle to excel in education. I guess it is because of his childhood challenges that transformed him to become a person who can empathise for people in Sabah. When it comes to education, he is never stingy to contribute” said Kasmah.

Madius had done so much to improve education for Tuaran community, even way before he became the Federal minister. One notable initiative is the organising of the annual “Anugerah Gemilang Kecermelanagan Tujuh Tahun” whereby awards were given to students, teachers and schools who achieve excellent performance; indirectly motivates others to improve and compete.

According to her, Madius is an icon to the Tuaran school children owing to the similarity of his childhood experiences with local children. Like others, he was also born in a financially challenged family and required to walk hours to school everyday. To exchange for more studying time, he chose to live in a small hut built beside his school and only went back to his parent’s house every weekend.

With tonnes of hard work and perseverance, he has now become a Federal Minister entrusted with the country’s growth accelerator portfolio; Science, Technology & Innovation, a portfolio that has never been so important than before in driving Malaysia’s economy towards achieving high income nation.

As I spoke to Kasmah, I was told under Madius’s influence, a non-profit organisation conducted a 6 months Robotic Learning at Schools program in Tuaran that have greatly benefited local school children. Apparently it was the Robotic program organised by the organisation I worked in; Malaysia Innovation Foundation. Being a person from Peninsular with various learning opportunities, it never crossed my mind that a mere Robotic education can impact so much on the rural community. Apparently many children in Tuaran never had the opportunity to try robotic-making and this indeed provided valuable experience to them.

All these initiatives may look insignificant to us who live in the city, but in fact it energises teachers, students and community in Tuaran especially in encouraging continuous learning, motivates and raises their confidence level. These also gave them a clearer direction, moving towards a high income nation together with city folks.

“Teachers are just like anyone of us. They yearned for moral support to constantly make them stay strong so as not to be easily influenced by negativity from the society” said Kasmah.

Kasmah hopes that more individual or organisations will come forward to support the improvement of education delivery system, not only in Tuaran but Sabah as a whole.