Reaching out to Orang Asli and indigenous pre-schoolers in Malaysia's remote regions
By Steve Nettleton
KAMPUNG PETA, Johor, 2 September 2008 – The ancient jungle of Endau-Rompin National Park, deep in Peninsular Malaysia, is home to rare species of birds, butterflies and rhinoceros, as well as a diverse range of plant life.
It is also the traditional home of the Orang Asli, or ‘original people’, the indigenous inhabitants of Malaysia.
The village of Kampung Peta is a remote Orang Asli settlement in the southern state of Johor. Its residents, however, mostly ethnic Jakun, do not live in complete isolation. Tourists regularly visit, and the Government has helped provide the villagers with a community centre, a large primary school and a library.
A desire to learn
Tinah Jala (32) grew up in Peta and now works as a teacher in the only village pre-school. She says that a sense of distance – both physical and cultural – has kept many Jakun children from attending school.
“To me, it’s because of the remote environment and that there are no role models,” notes Tinah.
“So the kids just want to play and not go to school. But the education situation here now is very different from what it was. People are more concerned about getting an education.”
Dropout rates for Orang Asli have dramatically fallen in the last 15 years; however, about 80 per cent of indigenous children still don’t complete secondary school.
Many of them begin to study Malay and English in primary school but fall behind other students of the same age.
Together with UNICEF and its corporate partner ING, Malaysia’s Ministry of Rural and Regional Development is working to improve Malaysian children’s opportunities for education, starting in pre-school.
The ‘Reach Out and Read’ program aims to help children master six key learning components: language and communication, cognitive development, morale and spirituality, social-emotional development and creativity. Language skills are given particular emphasis, as it enables children to develop their ability to think, understand concepts, imagine and communicate effectively.
Reach Out and Read currently serves some 2,400 children with learning disabilities in rural and remote areas across Malaysia, and provides special training to about 300 pre-school teachers.
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on efforts to improve literacy skills for Orang Asli preschoolers in Malaysia.
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