English Language Teacher Agency in Rural Sarawak: Exploiting Teaching Materials


  • Tamas Kiss Sunway University, Malaysia
  • Hazelynn Rimbar Freelance Educational Consultant, Malaysia


Teacher agency, textbooks, teaching materials, materials adaptation


This paper explores English language teacher agency in rural Sarawak, Malaysia within the context of materials exploitation. The introduction of an international textbook series in all primary schools in Malaysia has brought about significant challenges for teachers who work in socially and economically deprived educational settings, where resources are scarce and where the textbook’s cultural references may be alien to the learners. In order for it to be meaningfully used in the classroom, language teachers need to adapt and localize the textbook for their learners. However, diverting from the officially prescribed material and scheme of work may be a risky business and it requires high levels of teacher autonomy and agency. The data show that although research participants find the materials in need of adaptation, not all make changes due to possible deficiencies in their capabilities or their lack of willingness to act. Those who make changes and thus enact their professional beliefs and values are motivated by completely different reasons. The study found that teachers’ interpretation of their work context significantly influences their agential roles and that teacher agency emerges from an interaction of individual capability, professional action, and the professional and social contexts in which the teacher operates.