Folklore inspiration to improve Malaysian Orang Asli children’s literacy
By Indra Nadchatram
KUALA LUMPUR, 25 July 2007 – Malaysia’s Orang Asli children will soon get to improve their literacy skills as a result of a specially tailored education program which will incorporate Orang Asli folklores and legends into teaching and learning aids.
Organised by the Ministry of Education and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the remedial program will introduce story-telling techniques in the classroom together with story books designed to capture the imagination of close to 6,000 Orang Asli children, with the aim of encouraging reading habits and improving writing skills.
While the country has achieved impressive results in education with a net enrolment rate of 96% in primary school for Malaysian children, most children from the Orang Asli community however are found lagging behind. Orang Asli children together with children from Sabah and Sarawak’s indigenous groups make up for a sizeable proportion of Malaysia’s remaining 4% children who fair poorly in both primary school enrolment rates and achievements.
Trapped in poverty
Due to poor education performances, Malaysia’s Orang Asli remain one of the poorest in the country. A household income survey carried out less than ten years ago found as many as 51% of the population living below the poverty level.
Teacher Santey anak Dugu (24) who hails from Malaysia’s Mah Meri ethnic group in Selangor’s Carey Island blames the lackadaisical attitude of Orang Asli parents towards education for low school enrolment, absenteeism and drop out rates.
“Orang Asli parents simply don’t realise the value of an education. When girls reach 10 or 11 year old, they are often asked to stay at home to look after their younger siblings and do household chores, while boys will be taken out to sea to fish,” says Santey. “It is a huge loss to our community because without an education, we will always remain trapped in poverty”.
Collecting folk stories
Santey together with 19 Orang Asli teachers representing 5 ethnic groups – Jakun, Mah Meri, Semai, Semalai and Temuan from the states of Pahang, Johor, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Melaka came together recently for a four day workshop to share Orang Asli folklores and legends with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF.
Like many other Orang Asli teachers who participated in the Workshop, Santey relied heavily on the knowledge of her village elders for Mah Meri folklore. She is particularly glad for the program as it means the culture and beliefs of her community will be kept alive for the younger generation through the story books.
“I am excited about the value the Ministry of Education and UNICEF is placing on our cultural heritage. It gives me pride to be able to share stories from my own community for others to learn from,” continues Santey.
Santey believes the folk stories, each with its own important life lesson, will be a powerful incentive to encourage both parents and children to get involved in learning. At the same time, the initiative will help the others learn about the traditions and beliefs of the different Orang Asli ethnic groups in Malaysia.
Children’s love for stories
A total of 13 stories were collected during the workshop to develop story telling materials and text books for use by Year Two and Year Three Orang Asli students in the country. In addition, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF will train Orang Asli teachers from 93 schools in techniques and practices of storytelling which will include the use of facial expressions, body gestures and exaggerated character voices.
According to the Ministry of Education’s Assistant Director, Puan Norhayati Mokhtar, the program design takes into consideration children’s love for stories.
“Stories are most meaningful and best able to promote literacy when they speak to a student's world. Using folklores can help children develop pride in their ethnic identity, provide positive role models, develop knowledge about cultural history, and build self-esteem,” explains Puan Norhayati.
This recent initiative builds on the Ministry of Education and UNICEF’s 1997 Special Remedial Education Program for Orang Asli children.
Education in a human right - Resources
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