Using folklore to promote and enrich education for Malaysia’s indigenous children
By Steve Nettleton
TASIK CINI, Malaysia, 17 June 2008 – Assembled around a village elder, members of the younger generation listen to tales of their ancestors. Clad in a traditional headpiece made of dried leaves, Awang Bin Alok, 67, shares his stories with young students sitting on the porch of a wooden house.
The oral tradition continues to serve an important role for the ethnic Jakun community of Tasik Cini in Peninsular Malaysia. It is a role that not only informs children like nine-year-old Nurkafiha about the past, but could also brighten her chances for the future.
Nurkafiha is in third grade at the Tasik Cini primary school. Through storytelling and singing activities, she encounters lessons from her heritage that make learning more appealing.
Ethnic folklore in the curriculum
“I like the folktales because they are funny,” said Nurkafiha. “And I get to act, and read and write.”
Introducing ethnic folklore into the curriculum is part of a UNICEF-supported effort to reduce dropout rates among the indigenous inhabitants of Malaysia, known as the Orang Asli.
School enrolment for Orang Asli children has long lagged behind other groups in Malaysia, in part because of cultural differences and because they often live in the most remote areas of the country. In Tasik Cini, many students must come to and from class by boat, from villages many kilometres away.
Expanded education programme
Enrolment rates have been rising in recent decades, however. In 1994, 51 per cent of Orang Asli children dropped out before completing primary school. By 2004, a UNICEF Malaysia survey showed that some 14 per cent of primary school-age Orang Asli children did not attend school.
With help from UNICEF, Malaysia’s Ministry of Education has expanded a special remedial education programme to all 93 Orang Asli schools across the country. UNICEF and the ministry are working to develop new learning materials that incorporate folk stories and storytelling techniques that children from various Orang Asli groups can easily understand.
“This programme really does help,” said the principal of Tasik Cini Primary School, Akit bin Huat, “because in this community storytelling is a form of entertainment. When a storyteller shares a story with their children and grandchildren, they help the children to remember the way of life of their own community. It makes them interested.”