As told by an Education Services staff
Orang Asli are indigenous people of Malaysia, accounting for just 0.5 percent of Malaysia’s total population. Temuans are one of the largest of its ethnic subgroups.
We got to know about a Temuan community residing behind Damansara Perdana. This particular group of Temuans originated from Bukit Nanas, moving several times around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor before settling in Bukit Lanjan. Their land was bought over by developers in recent years marking their final relocation to Desa Temuan.
Staying in School is Difficult
Despite the relocation, Temuan children grow up in a familiar community where everyone speaks the same language, come from the same background and are of the same race. At 7 years old, they attend the same primary school, SK Bukit Lanjan established specially for their community to receive the education that they need.
The problem arises after a temuan child finishes their primary education and continues to secondary education in an urban school further away from home, SMK Bandar Utama 4.
For many, if not all, it's the first time they are exposed to people outside of their community, to languages that are foreign to them. Enrollment numbers significantly decline as they progress to higher levels, and a large proportion don't complete SPM (Form 5 education). These children drop out because they feel that they cannot compete with their peers, often feeling inferior, especially in English literacy.
I have no one to help me.
They cannot cope with their studies, be it English-specific or other subjects. Each year they fall further behind and eventually drop out due to lack of motivation. Like their parents, they end up in low-paying, blue-collar jobs due to lack of proper qualification or they stay at home and loiter about in their community.
They struggle with English literacy because they just don’t have the exposure. Their only exposure to English is at school. They lack attention and guidance due to high student-teacher ratios. They don’t have anywhere to go to get English books, no one to practice with at home, no access to extra classes to supplement their learning.
When I come home, I just fend for myself.
Out of school, a lot of these children are left to their own devices. They come from large families where both parents work long hours in low-paying blue collar jobs – a common trend in low-income communities.
I can’t ask my parents because my parents can’t read or they’re just not around.
At an age where it is critical to have role modelling on the importance of education or setting a discipline of learning, they lack the accountability and guidance that they need. The average literacy rate of families in this community is low.
I can’t ask my brother or sister because they are encountering the same problem as I am.
Since early 2017, we’ve begun a Community Reading Program (CRP) for children in this community, serving students from Form 1 to Form 3 to help them catch up in school. Most have an English literacy equivalent to 6 or 7 year olds.
Despite more exposure to urban-life than the generations before them, they are impressionable, sheltered and very sincere in what they say. Shy in the beginning, they’ve come to embrace us openly as time progresses. Despite odds, they express desire to learn, do better at school and fulfil their dreams through education.
I want to write better essays to help me in school.
We begin CRP with goal setting. Hungry to learn, they tell us they want to improve their reading and request for their mentors to speak to them in English. They realise English makes all the difference in helping to assimilate better at school and in the future.
Just because a person is able to read English, it doesn’t automatically transform into them doing better at school unless they are able to apply it.
CRP gives them individualised attention that they need, which they don’t have in school classrooms. CRP is able to assess all the individual progress of the students.
Because English words are quite similar to Bahasa Malaysia, a lot of them blindly read words without understanding what it means. These children are assigned mentors that ensure that they comprehend everything that they’ve read. They can no longer fake understanding but are able to read, comprehend and apply. Using their newly acquired English vocabulary, they construct sentences, write essays to summarise all their learning.
One child wrote to her mentor:
When I’m in school, I don’t have the mood to learn but when I come here I have motivation.
Caring for each individual
The individualised attention the children receive from their mentors plays a big role in motivation. The mentors show these students that they’re not just here to help them get good grades but care for their well-being. These mentors go the extra mile to ensure that the students really understand.
Our aim with CRP is to give them the motivation and confidence to stay in school, converse in English and assimilate better socially.
By building their self-esteem through English they will no longer feel inferior to their peers and say:
I can do it, just like everyone else.
CRP for children in Desa Temuan is made possible thanks to our partner, KLK Care. If you would like to find out more about how you can fund a literacy program or impact lives at the grassroots through volunteering, talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.