To date, over 3,000 primary English teachers from the east Malaysian states of Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan have benefitted from the English Language Teacher Development Project (ELTDP) mentoring scheme, and now students and local families are getting involved too, Fiona Wright writes. The project is supporting the Malaysian Ministry of Education to make a step-change in the quality of English teaching in the country.
The main ELTDP project aims to improve the teaching and learning of English while raising teachers’ English proficiency, to increase the use of teaching aids and encourage the involvement of parents and the local community. The project focuses on developing teachers’ own reflective practice, allowing them to identify areas to explore within their mentoring relationship. One hundred and twenty mentors have been placed across east Malaysia, often in very rural areas, each working with a cluster of schools in an area.
One such primary school is SK Tiga Papan, which is the most northerly school in Sabah where ELTDP mentors work. It is surrounded by high coconut palms which sway from the breezes blowing in from the South China Sea. The famous Tip of Borneo, where the Sulu and South China Seas converge, is within walking distance, and the Rungus villagers of Tiga Papan support themselves by growing coconuts, rice and bananas, and fishing and collecting sea shells. Life moves at a slow pace, and it was not a surprise that it was a late start to the Storybook Project Workshop which the parents were invited to attend in October 2014.
The Storybook Project is part of the parental and community engagement strand of the teacher mentoring project, with the goal of encouraging parents to be more involved in their children’s education and feel part of the process. Encouraging literacy and a love of reading is also a strong focus of the project, and the first activity was the sharing of wonderful story books borrowed from another primary school which had benefitted from the ELTDP’s book flood in 2013. Watching everyone’s enjoyment of the books was difficult to interrupt but the next activity was the storytelling. Groups were formed, with one scribe per group, whose task was to take down a local story that parents wanted to share and pass on to their children. Malay and Rungus were spoken, and the next hour was filled with a buzz of talking, disagreements, laughter and reminiscing. Amazingly there seemed to be a different story from each group, including ‘How the first rice was planted’, ‘The old mango tree and the ghost’ and ‘The boy who forgot his name’.
The next workshop run by the teachers will be focusing on how to simplify the stories and make them come alive for the children to enjoy. Celebrated local artist Jainal Amambing, who also attended, is keen to inspire the children and parents to illustrate the stories. The stories will be recorded in Rungus and English and hopefully made into books for the community.
Teachers on the mentoring project also benefit in multiple ways – they develop their translation skills, learn to summarise and simplify English for children, work closely with their mentor to achieve a finished product (the story book), and also have an opportunity to build important bridges between school and parents in the local community.
Pic courtesy: Matt Stabile