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Orang Asli children given a glimpse of a future enriched by education

© UNICEF Malaysia/2008/Nadchatram
Exxon-Mobil Subsidiaries Malaysia Financial Director Mr. Zain C Willoughby, Ministry of Education Secretary-General Tan Sri Dr Zulkurnain bin Awang and Mr Youssouf Oomar with Orang Asli children from Pahang’s Tasik Cini Primary School.

By Tee Shiao Eek

KUALA LUMPUR, 15 September 2008 – Hundreds of kilometres away from the serene waters of Tasik Cini where the fabled Seri Gumum dragon is said to reside, 27 Orang Asli children from Sekolah Kebangsaan Tasik Cini were given a glimpse of what a future enriched by education holds for them.

Capping off a two-day school trip organised by ExxonMobil and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the children showcased their acting talents at a special event in Kuala Lumpur, where Exxon-Mobil also pledged their contribution towards a remedial teaching program for Orang Asli children.

Initiated by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, the remedial program will introduce story-telling techniques in the classroom together with story books designed to capture the imagination of 13,000 Orang Asli children, with the aim of inspiring them to attend school, and improving their reading and writing skills.

Education begins with literacy

“Education begins with literacy. Children who can read and write can be empowered to claim their rights, change their lives, improve their communities and influence their destinies,“ said Mr. Youssouf Oomar, UNICEF Representative to Malaysia.

“This is your world. You are the present and the future,” he said to the Orang Asli children.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2008/Nadchatram
Orang Asli student Jeki Irawan bin Majid from the Tasik Cini School plays the Tapah fish in a special performance of the Orang Asli folklore “Mengapa Ikan Tapah Makan Ikan Keli” in Kuala Lumpur. The event was held to mark International Literacy Day 2008.

Despite the rapid pace of development in Malaysia, Orang Asli communities are still among the poorest in the country and their children lag behind in educational achievements. In 2004, it was recorded that 14% of children aged seven to 12 years were not attending school, while many of those who did, dropped out before reaching secondary school.

“While we are proud of our achievements in education, we will not rest on our laurels. There is still much more work to be done, particularly in reaching out to the 4% of Malaysian children who are not enrolled in schools, and opening the doors of education to them,” said Minister of Education Dato' Seri Hishammuddin bin Tun Hussein in his speech, delivered by the Secretary-General Tan Sri Dr Zulkurnain bin Awang.

From jungle to concrete jungle

Painfully shy at first, the Orang Asli children – consisting of Year 3 to 6 students – quickly warmed up as they were taken on a tour of several historical and significant sights in Kuala Lumpur, and introduced to the exotic marine life in Aquaria.

They chattered with their teachers, pranced around proudly with the new schoolbags they received from Exxon-Mobil and UNICEF, and jostled to share their experiences with reporters.

“There have been no dropouts among our students. However, their learning achievements are slower compared to urban students, due to many factors in their lives, such as parents who are unable to help them with their school work,” said one of the teachers, Noorhasida bt Baharin, as she helped the children put on their costumes and prepare for their sketch.

Nine year-old Jeki Irawan bin Majid stole the show as the King of the Lake, in the traditional folk story passed down by his ancestors, titled “Mengapa Ikan Tapah Makan Ikan Keli” (“Why The Tapah Fish ate the Keli Fish”).

The sketch demonstrated how play-acting and story-telling, using folklores that speak to their ethnic identities, can attract and sustain children’s interest in learning.

Cultivating an interest in learning

Recognising that traditional folklores form an important aspect of the Orang Asli peoples’ heritage and the central role that story-telling plays in their communities, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF have gathered 13 folklores from five Orang Asli ethnic groups, which will now be incorporated into the remedial teaching program to develop story-telling materials and books.

With Exxon-Mobil’s support, the next phase of this project will also train teachers from 94 Orang Asli schools in using the stories to develop teaching skills and tools for Year Two and Year Three Orang Asli students in the country.

With such policies, programs and resources in place, the aim is to provide quality education for all children in Malaysia, regardless of whether they live under bright city lights or in a village nestled in the jungle.





Video: Orang Asli Folklores

August 2008:
Folklores to enrich Orang Asli children's education

International Literacy Day 2008

     8 September 2008

Education in a human right - Resources

  • Need for education
  • Legal frameworks
  • Action ideas


  • Literacy & education
  • UNICEF program

Child-friendly Schools

Millennium Development Goal 2


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