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In Malaysia, a preschool teacher goes the extra mile

Learn how Lata Rajoo is paying forward the help she received from others to obtain her education.  Download this video


By Hema Balasundaram

One woman’s dedication to educating disadvantaged children in Malaysia demonstrates the difference a single teacher can make, and the importance of early education.

KAPAR, Malaysia, 17 October 2013 – Lata Rajoo works at a carwash to make a living. But her passion is education, and her mission is to provide schooling for disadvantaged children.  So she spends the better part of her day using much of her own money to run Tadika Senyuman Manja, a pre-primary school in Kapar, about 45 km from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2013/Balasundaram
Lata Rajoo with her students. “I was very interested in studies but could hardly afford it. Since I can afford it now, I wanted to provide education for children.”

 “The reason I started this preschool is to provide education for poor children, because I had a hard time getting the education that I wanted,” Ms. Rajoo says. “I was very interested in studies but could hardly afford it – it was tough for me to even buy a book. I depended on help from others. Since I can afford it now, I wanted to provide education for children.”

Making learning fun

Ms. Rajoo starts her day using a friend’s van to give rides to students who cannot afford their own transportation. With the help of an assistant teacher, she stretches all the resources she has available and together they find creative ways to make learning fun and fulfilling for the children.

Drawing on 27 years of teaching experience, Ms. Rajoo tailors her lessons to the children’s home lives and individual needs, as well as their mother tongue – Ms. Rajoo and most of her pupils are part of Malaysia’s ethnic Indian population and speak Tamil.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2013/Albert
Girls attend class at Tadika Senyuman Manja. Children who benefit from quality early childhood education are better prepared for future learning and are more likely to complete higher levels of schooling.

It is difficult to find affordable, context-sensitive learning materials in Tamil, so Ms. Rajoo makes her own, using things such as old boxes, colour pencils, raffia string and even ice-cream sticks.

Long-term benefits

“I love to come to school and learn,” says 6-year-old Pavitheran, whose three elder siblings aged 8 to 12 also attended the pre-school. “I have a lot of friends here, and I really like all the games.”

What happens here is critical for these children. Research shows that children learn best in their mother tongue, especially in their early years, and that children who benefit from good early childhood development programmes are better prepared for school and more likely to reach a higher level of education.

“Preschool is very important, because that is where they first start learning,” says Pavitheran’s mother, Bhavani, who does not have much education herself. “The education that my eldest daughter gained in preschool is still benefitting her today.”

Breaking the cycle of poverty

To support community preschool education, UNICEF has partnered with a local organization, the Asian Institute for Early Child Care and Education, to provide Ms. Rajoo and other teachers with training to improve their teaching materials and lesson plans.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2013/Balasundaram
Pavitheran, 6, is now following in the footsteps of three older siblings who previously attended Tadika Senyuman Manja. “I love to come to school and learn,” he says.

“This is one of the best starts we can provide children, especially children from low-income communities,” says UNICEF Malaysia Representative Wivina Belmonte. “It’s like a passport – to a better education, and a better beginning. It’s a way of breaking the cycle of poverty that would otherwise go on generation after generation, and instead kick starting something new – a virtuous cycle – that gives children a better chance.”

Today’s storytelling session at Tadika Senyuman Manja, on how to protect against diseases borne by flies and mosquitoes, has the children captivated. No matter what the lesson, it all adds up to one thing – giving the children a head start so that they can thrive in primary school and beyond.



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