The project, which has been running since January 2011, sees 120 highly qualified British Council mentors posted all across the East Malaysian states of Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan. Some mentors are posted in the main cities and towns but many are posted in much more remote areas and must access schools by boat or four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The mentors each work in a “sub-cluster” of five schools, with a minimum of ten teachers across the five schools. In addition to the 1,200 ‘core’ teachers on the project, mentors also work with almost 2,000 additional teachers in various capacities to inculcate a culture of professional development at the school level.
The project set out to provide 75 hours of professional input to each teacher each year, but, in 2012, actually delivered over 100,000 hours of professional input to teachers, over 10,000 hours over target.
The mentoring approach aims to go beyond the straightforward training approach. One-to-one mentoring aims to help teachers explore and reflect on their own professional practice and develop new approaches for themselves in order to ensure lasting change. Teachers are not taken out of school for training; instead British Council mentors visit schools to find out about local needs and help teachers find their own solutions. The British Council’s approach to the project focuses on supporting Malaysian teachers to develop their own reflective practice so that teachers take ownership of their own professional development.”
Teachers are encouraged to use tools such as reflective journals and learning portfolios, in-depth interviews, workshops and group discussions, storytelling/narratives, video observations, peer observations, drawings and diagrams. Through trying different approaches and research, teachers find out what works best for them.
As teacher-development rarely happens in a vacuum, the project also works with head teachers, district education officers and other Ministry officials to support whole-school and wider institutional change.
Mentors have also supported teachers to work with local communities in kampungs (villages) and longhouses to find ways in which parents can support literacy.
External evaluation and the project’s own internal monitoring has shown a real impact. Ratings of teachers on a teacher competency framework have almost doubled over the duration of the project. In addition, measurement of teachers’ language proficiency using the Common European Framework showed that while most teachers were at the “independent’ level at the start of the project, the majority of ratings had shifted to the upper independent and proficient bands after a year on the project. Independent evaluation has commented on the impressive changes brought about by the project.