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Education brings promise to Malaysia’s remote interior

© UNICEF Malaysia/2009/Nadchatram
Penan mother Meriam Anyie's son Andi (right), 11, and his classmates use computers to learn English as part of the Supplementary Reading Programme supported by the Malaysian Ministry of Education and UNICEF.

By Steve Nettleton

In the run-up to 20 November 2009, the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about this landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – including progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

LONG LUTENG, Malaysia, 16 November 2009 – Meriam Anyie was born deep in the rainforest of Malaysian Borneo. As members of the Penan ethnic group, a nomadic indigenous people in the state of Sarawak, she and her family spent most of their life in the jungle, never living in a permanent home throughout her childhood.

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Today, however, nearly all of the 10,000 Penans in Sarawak have abandoned their ancestral nomadic ways to live in towns and villages.

Ms. Anyie and her husband are raising four children in Long Luteng, a small village situated on rolling hills of ancient forest. They are hours from the nearest major city, Miri, by boat or four-wheel-drive vehicle.

And for the first time in her life, Ms. Anyie, who is in her thirties, is going to school.

Reaching the ‘original people’
While Malaysia has succeeded in raising attendance and the quality of education nationwide, it is still tackling lower-than-average enrolment rates in remote rural areas, where children’s education is generally dismissed in favour of earning money by working. 

© UNICEF Malaysia/2009/Nadchatram
Meriam Anyie (left), a mother of two who is in her thirties, is attending school for the first time through an adult literacy programme for parents from indigenous groups in Malaysia.

Ms. Anyie has enrolled in an adult literacy programme called KEDAP. It is a pilot project of the Malaysian Ministry of Education to reach the remote Orang Asli, or ‘original people’, of Malaysia.

By providing a basic education for parents, KEDAP aims to help them understand the value of schooling for their children.

“Now I know the alphabet and I can read, write and count to 10, to 20. Now I can help my children a little bit with their school work,” says Ms. Anyie.

Education in demand
Long Luteng Primary School faces challenges unlike schools in many more accessible areas. Some students must travel hours on foot to attend class. Still, the adult literacy class is in such high demand in Long Luteng that many parents are on a waiting list.

Its success comes on the heels of a long-running effort, supported by UNICEF, to boost enrolment rates and educational achievement in rural areas – particularly among Orang Asli children in Peninsular Malaysia and indigenous children in distant areas of Malaysian Borneo’s Sabah and Sarawak States.

The initiative is in keeping with the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 29 of the Convention establishes every child’s right to an education that helps to develop his or her personality, talents and abilities to their fullest potential. Article 30 of the CRC protects the rights of minority and indigenous children – including the right to learn about and practice their own culture, language and religion.

‘I want them to be successful'
Principal Edward Nullie Anggun boasts that the Long Luteng school has almost 100 per cent attendance. Under the government’s incentive programme to encourage educational opportunities for Penan children, the school provides its students with free education, including textbooks and school uniforms.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2009/Nadchatram
Now that she has gained literacy skills through adult education, Meriam Anyie can help her children Andi, 11, and Cindy, 9, with their homework.

Mr. Anggun describes his message to students: “You can only change through education, because with a good education you can get a better job. With a better job, then you can have a better life,” he says.

As more parents like Ms. Anyie learn the importance of education, more children will be able to study and increase their potential.

“My hope is for my children to have ambition in their hearts,” says Ms. Anyie. “I want them to be successful. Maybe my daughter can be a nurse… My son Andi can be a teacher,… I will be very happy.”




UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on programmes promoting education for indigenous populations in Malaysian Borneo.
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