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'Not me': Behind teachers' misgivings about being sent to Sarawak

Not everyone has the mentality it takes to be posted far from home, says a senior assistant administrative teacher.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
4 minute read
A teacher greets her students on the first day of school at SK Petra Jaya in Kuching, Sarawak, March 20. Photo: Bernama
A teacher greets her students on the first day of school at SK Petra Jaya in Kuching, Sarawak, March 20. Photo: Bernama

Syamimi (not her real name) was thrilled when she learnt that her name was on the education ministry's list in its one-off recruitment drive for teachers two years ago.

At the time, she saw it as an opportunity to start afresh in her career path – but her feelings changed after she was told to report for duty at a district education office in Sarawak.

"I was afraid and worried about what might happen if I was sent to work in the interior," she said. 

"I didn't give it a second thought. I immediately decided that I would not go, and I rejected the offer to teach." 

Syamimi was one of 222 candidates out of the 3,227 recruited who did not show up for duty after being posted in Sarawak. 

When asked if she had been ready for the possibility of being sent to Sabah or Sarawak, she said she had not really expected this to happen. 

"Many of the teachers in the one-off recruitment drive said that only those who were from Sarawak would be posted there," she said. 

"So I was confident that it wouldn't happen to me." 


A senior assistant administrative teacher with two years to go before his compulsory retirement said there was nothing unusual about teachers from the peninsula rejecting placements in Sabah and Sarawak. 

Introducing himself as Hussien, he said he had been in the teaching profession for more than three decades, during which he had observed many fundamental problems.

First off, he said, teachers had the right to reject offers due to obvious constraints, including the cost of migrating to East Malaysia. 

He said problems usually arose over the cost of flight tickets and hotel rentals before reporting for duty, as well as the money needed for accommodation in areas that do not have teachers' quarters. 

"We also have to consider the fact that many of the teachers in this one-off recruitment drive are in their late 20s. They have families. 

"Their children are still small and they haven't been married for that long. It's hard for them to move just like that because they don't have a strong support system," he said. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he recalled how he had been posted to a district in Sarawak in 1989, when he was just 24 years old.

"God only knew what was going on in my head when I got off the plane and set foot in Kuching," Hussein, whose family was from Kajang in Selangor, added. 

"I could have gone astray without the proper mentality. What we are seeing and reading about now is a problem with mentality among our teachers." 

Hussein ultimately spent decades in Sarawak, becoming a reference point for friends and personnel from the education ministry for teachers with doubts about moving to the state. 

He said some still believed that they would have to live in huts or under trees if they went to teach in Sarawak. 

Others meanwhile assumed they would have to rear chickens and forage for food in the forest. 

"They could imagine Sarawakians having a drink at Starbucks or eating at KFC, but they are more inclined towards this other type of mentality," Hussein said.


For him, there is no point blaming the education ministry for the teachers who reject placements in East Malaysia. 

He acknowledged that several places in the interior were still undeveloped and were difficult to access due to a lack of proper roads. 

But he said that schools in Sarawak never bully new teachers, instead giving them the time and space to prepare before coming to the classroom. 

As a teacher and administrator, he himself has asked new teachers to start several weeks late, to give them the time they need to put their household in order. 

But he said that those who worry right from the start about being posted to other states are not ready to become civil servants. 

For the most part, he said, government servants are never guaranteed a post in their dream location. If they are, he added, it is usually a coincidence or due to contacts that they have at government offices. 

"Say you are from Johor and you are also posted to teach in Johor. Good for you. 

"But you will see for yourself that not all of your students are from Johor. Some of their parents are from Selangor, others are from Sabah. 

"Why? Because their parents were also sent to work in other states, as teachers or police officers or nurses." 

It was not until 2021 that Hussein was finally moved back to the peninsula, where he resumed living with his parents, now in their 70s. 

His hope is that the education ministry will be able to come up with an effective mechanism to prevent a gap in education due solely to difficulties in mentality. 

"But it's also hard for the ministry to detect what sort of mentality candidates have in the interview process," he said. 

"We only get sweet promises – 'Yes, I can, I'm ready.'"