Not many teachers enjoy a rural posting but young Jarod Yong has turned the tide in his favour.
ENGLISH was once an impossible subject for many students at SMK Katibas, Sarawak, especially when the language was hardly spoken at the remote school.
Very few students had ever scored an A for English in the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) while some had already given up learning the “Bahasa Orang Putih” (white man’s language).
But young teacher Jarod Yong was not going to turn a blind eye to the deteriorating standard of the language among his students.
He organised storytelling and spelling competitions, treasure hunts and English language nights.
His students performed the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale by the Brothers Grimm and danced to Korean pop group Wondergirls’s hit song Nobodyat English language night.
By injecting some fun into the otherwise dry and predictable classroom teaching routines, Yong began to see a growing interest in the language among his students.
The Kuching native, 27, says his students have become more confident conversing in English, especially those who have been learning with Yong since Form One.
“They can speak English fluently with me with the occasional Bahasa Malaysia when they don’t know the words in English,” he shares.
Teaching in rural Sarawak is not for the faint-hearted. Water is pumped from the river with the school’s pump and treated on site.
There is no mobile phone coverage. If you need to make a call using a mobile phone, you will have to search for reception near “hot spots” on elevated terrain, just like a ghostbuster.
And the best phones to do this with are the “low-end” phones.
The school generators work on a rotation system that lasts six hours each. If any of the generators break down, the school community will have no water because the pumps require a lot of energy to operate, says Yong.
“When that happens, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. We have to bathe and wash in the river or collect rainwater.
“It is better if it doesn’t rain because if it does, the river will turn your clothes brown and you will get a free mud bath,” he says.
The Internet connection relies heavily on weather conditions and user traffic.
Instead of dwelling on the school’s shortcomings, Yong works around and within the constraints using creativity and imagination to make the language fun and interesting.
Taking pride in his profession, the hardworking Yong tailors his lessons by including games, group work, activities, productions and presentations. These “extras” make the lessons lively and engaging.
He also revived the English Language Society and initiated the school’s first monthly English newspaper — The Katibas Global.
“My students love learning English and will often try to speak English with me outside the classroom, to the amazement of senior students who are unable to do so.
“In the end, the whole school got in on it and almost every student now attempts to speak to me in English,” he says.
Describing them as his “pride and joy”, Yong not only emphasises on passing the national examinations, he also focuses on character building together with other teachers.
“As mental health is related to physical health, I try to give them some exercise by jogging together.
“After the jogging session, I try to talk with them. Sometimes I chastise them, sometimes I praise them. I make it very clear what I expect from them both academically and discipline-wise,” he says.
While this may not be the best approach, Yong says he does it for a good reason.
“I do this because my students have no money or political connections. They depend solely on good grades for scholarships.
“Otherwise they are doomed to continue the vicious cycle of poverty that their parents and grandparents are going through,” he says.
For motivation, Yong dangles the carrot before his students. To those who score an A for the English subject in PMR, they will receive a fully sponsored three-day, two-night trip to Sibu.
Since 2011, the graduate teacher has sponsored four students each year.
“It may not be a lot to many of you but for a 16-year-old who comes from a humble background, a trip to Sibu would be the equivalent of a trip to Kuala Lumpur for a teen from Kuching or Penang,” he says.
Caring for his students is also a priority.
“I spend time with them, listen to their problems, provide avenues for their talents, buy them simple gifts and share the things I love.
“If you want them to learn the English language, you have to be a role model,” he says.
English is more than just the universal language of diplomacy, business, science and technology. It opens the door to more job and university opportunities, career advancements and increased earning power — as much as 50%, according to the World Bank.