By Zaphne Philip
KUCHING: Any teacher who has taught in a remote school in Sarawak will attest that besides their teaching duties, they also have to play the role of parent, carer, well-wisher and mentor to the students.

Austin Albert Jalin had his first taste of teaching in a rural school 17 years ago when he was posted to Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Sungai Bebangan, a primary school in Kapit district in the central region of Sarawak, immediately after he completed his studies at Rajang Teachers Training College in Bintangor.

The Iban youth was 25 years old then and having lived in Betong, a fast-developing town about 130 kilometres from here, all his life, he dreaded the thought of being holed up in a remote outpost.

Austin, who is now 42 and is the senior assistant (administrative) at SK Saint John in Betong, recalled his first trip from his hometown to the school to report for duty: “For someone like me who was born and brought up in a town, the whole experience was new. The roads were dusty and went through steep and hilly terrain.”

The journey took a whole day and he had to travel in a van, four-wheel-drive vehicle, express boat and longboat, as well as cross a logging camp, to get to his destination.

Austin, who stayed at the quarters provided for teachers at the school, also said that there had been times during his subsequent trips to the school after the school holidays when he had to spend a night at a remote farm midway and resume his journey the following morning.

Austin (centre) with some of his students. This photograph was taken when he taught at SK Nanga Segenok, Kapit, from 2003 to 2006.

Noble profession

Austin taught at SK Sungai Bebangan from July 2002 to December the same year before he was transferred to SK Nanga Segenok, also located in Kapit district, where he served until December 2006.

Growing up, he never planned on becoming an educator but after completing his Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination, he received an offer to study at a teachers’ training college and took it up with the encouragement of his family and friends.

“I am thankful I made the right decision. Teaching is, indeed, a noble profession,” he told Bernama.

Sharing his experience teaching in the remote schools, Austin said even though the student enrolment was low, the teachers were kept busy as they had to teach several subjects each.

His first school SK Sungai Bebangan, for instance, had 50 students and six teachers, including an administrative clerk.

In Sarawak’s rural schools where the students are provided hostel facilities due to the remote location of their settlements, the teachers take on the role of parents.

“We served as their teachers, as well as their parents. Their own parents had placed their trust in us to educate their children,” said Austin, adding that the teachers and students developed a close bond.

“We used to spend the weekends together because we didn’t want the children to miss their families and homes.”

If any child fell sick or had to be referred to the hospital in Kapit town, he or she would be accompanied by a teacher, he added.

Challenging

It is also the teachers who teach their pupils to take care of themselves, wash their clothes and keep the school facilities clean. They are also entrusted with moulding the children’s character in a holistic way and inculcating humanistic values into them.

“Before the students enter their class, one of the teachers would inspect them to ensure they are properly dressed and are wearing clean uniforms,” said Austin.

He also described the teaching process as challenging as none of the children had gone to preschool and had to be taught from scratch.

“My colleagues and I had to work really hard to teach them the alphabet and numbers… in fact, we had to hold their hand to guide them to write,” he added.

To place the rural children on a par with their urban counterparts, Austin said the teachers had to be creative and innovative to keep their students interested in their studies.

The teachers’ efforts and commitment, stressed Austin, were aimed at improving their students’ academic performance and ensuring they developed a good command of English, Science and Mathematics.

Austin (centre) presenting a certificate of appreciation to an outstanding student during a recent visit to a longhouse in Betong.

Life in the interior

The town-bred Austin took a liking to the rural atmosphere during his teaching stint in the schools in Kapit district.

“The local people were so friendly and nice. During the school holidays when I didn’t return home, I would spend time with them and go down to the river with them to catch fish and prawns.

“Fishing was one of the ways for me to get my food supply. The experience of catching, cooking and tasting my own catch was priceless. It is something I wouldn’t have experienced if I had worked in the city,” he said, adding that he also found the prices of goods reasonable in the village although it was located rather far from Kapit town.

Austin has hopes of seeing the students he taught in the rural schools becoming successful someday.

“When they become successful, all the hardship they faced when they were young will turn into sweet memories for them.

“As educators, we appreciate it greatly when our former students remember us and keep in touch with us,” he added. – Bernama