By Emin Madi
KENINGAU (Bernama) – Just before graduating from Kent College – Sabah’s oldest teachers training institute in Tuaran – in 1976, Kaipin Rosmin told some of his friends that he wanted to begin his teaching career by serving in one of the state’s remotest corners.
His friends then challenged him to go to Sekolah Kebangsaan Lubang Buaya Paitan or SK Long Pasia or SK Pensiangan which had the “notorious” reputation of being located in Sabah’s “untamed” territories.
Eventually, in early 1977, the former Royal Military College student was told to report to SK Lubang Buaya Paitan in the district of Beluran in Sandakan division in east Sabah as an assistant teacher. The name ‘Lubang Buaya’, which literally means crocodile pit, worried him but by then it was too late as it was his decision to be posted to a remote school.
It took him 10 whole days to reach Kampung Lubang Buaya, where his primary school was located, and he was shocked the school only had 15 students and three teachers, including him.
Kaipin served about three years as a teacher at a few rural and remote schools in Sabah and the overall experience, declared Kaipin, was a turning point in his life as it inspired him to be more passionate about teaching.
“I realised then that the rural communities were genuinely hungry for education.
“I also realised the hard truth about living in a remote area, as well as the magnanimous nature of the rural folks who are cut off from full contact with the outside world,” said the retired teacher, who is now 64 and was the recipient of the state-level Tokoh Guru award in 2018.
He now works on a contract basis as a cluster advisor at LeapEd Services, an education service provider based in Kimanis, Papar.
Recalling his first “adventurous” trip to Kampung Lubang Buaya, Kaipin told Bernama the secluded village was only accessible by river transport at that time and he had to board a boat at Sandakan town. (The village is now accessible by road from Sandakan.)
From the harbour, the boat sailed by sea into Sungai Sugut to drop off three newly-appointed teachers who were reporting for work at their respective schools near the river. Then, the boat returned to the sea to send another teacher to Pulau Jambongan and only after that did it proceed to Lubang Buaya village via Kuala Paitan/Paitan river.
“Lubang Buaya is located at the upstream portion of Sungai Paitan. However, due to the low tide, our boat could not go there (Lubang Buaya), so I had to transit at Sugut village for five days before a teacher from SK Lubang Buaya Paitan came to fetch me using a five-horse powered boat.
“Apparently, the teacher was only informed of my arrival in Sugut after a villager from Kampung Lubang Buaya returned home from a trip to Sugut,” Kaipin said.
The boat ride from Sugut to Lubang Buaya, he recollected, took four hours and it was both challenging and dangerous due to the strong current and the fact that they were travelling upstream.
“In certain areas the river was quite shallow, so we had to alight from the boat and push or carry it until the water was deep enough for us to get into the boat and turn on its engine,” he said.
SK LUBANG BUAYA PAITAN
At SK Lubang Buaya Paitan, Kaipin not only taught students in the morning but also conducted Bahasa Malaysia and basic English classes for the students’ parents in the evening and even during weekends. Lubang Buaya inhabitants are mostly from the Orang Sungai ethnic community.
“These extra activities helped to alleviate my loneliness… eventually, I began to get used to the experience of living in a tranquil remote place surrounded by rainforests and listening to birds chirping and gibbons calling, and coexisting with nature,” said Kaipin, who stayed at the teachers’ quarters within the school compound.
After a four-month stint at SK Lubang Buaya Paitan, Kaipin was transferred to SMK Kinabatangan, which is situated in the lower reaches of Paitan river and accessible by road from Sandakan town.
Kaipin’s third rural posting was in early 1979 as principal at SMK Tongod, a secondary school located in Tongod village in Bukit Garam district in Sandakan division, which at that time was only accessible by boat.
For the record, the Telupid-Tongod road was completed in late 1979, which made it possible to travel to Tongod by road from Sandakan town.
Kaipin said SMK Tongod had just opened then and only had three classrooms. The building, apparently, had previously served as a youth hall before it was converted into a school.
LACK OF STUDENTS
When he reported for work at SMK Tongod, Kaipin, who was born in Ranau but grew up at Kampung Bayangan, Keningau, found that it did not have enough students despite only having three classrooms.
“So my first job was to look for students,” he recalled, adding that with the help of the Tongod village headman, he managed to gather 20 youngsters living in the nearby villages who had long completed their primary six education but were unable to continue schooling due to financial problems.
“Some of the students were already 18 years old then but after several months, some dropped out of school to get married!”
In the meantime, he added, they also managed to get 40 Form One and Form Two students from SMK Kinabatangan transferred to SMK Tongod as they hailed from Tongod.
Kaipin, who holds a degree in Education, Guidance and Counselling from Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, also served in Keningau and Tambunan as district education officer before retiring in July 2016.
Kaipin said many rural schools in Sabah are still in dire need of infrastructural development and facilities, especially Internet access.
“Sabah is a huge state with more than 1,000 schools but the number of classrooms and support buildings are still very limited, especially in rural areas,” he said, adding that about 60 to 70 percent of schools in the state are located in rural areas and on islands.
He said it is the duty of the district education officer to do budget estimation and proposals for schools’ infrastructural needs which are then submitted to the State Education Department for approval.
“But only a limited number of proposals are approved because the department receives too many applications from all over the state,” he said.
The urban schools in the state, however, have conducive facilities and to be fair, he added, the education transformation process in Sabah has been in line with the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025.
Edited by Rema Nambiar
Malaysian National News Agency
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