Photo: Malay Mail
School was a place many of us (except for the nerdy ones) tried to get out of. What we failed to realise is that education and a proper school is a privilege not many have.
Samul Isaiah believes in meaningful and engaging learning, and he did just that by incorporating plenty of fun into the learning process. Previously, he raised more than RM 12,000 to buy tablets for the students and started an international e-mail exchange project (an electronic pen pal system of sorts), where the pupils could communicate with volunteers globally.
Photo: GPS Bestari
He also made use of music as a learning tool. Isaiah and his friends bought 22 ukuleles so the students could learn English by singing songs - a method far more enjoyable than the regular textbook method, we think!
While the classes were fun, poor attendance and dropouts were still a major issue. This inspired Isaiah to turn things around by bringing the classroom to the students instead.
This is how “Sekolah Pokok” was created.
Literally translating to mean “Tree School”, this unusual classroom provides English lessons for Orang Asli students of various ages. Lessons are taught by incorporating music and poetry at the school.
“Being kids, they are eager to learn new things. So having lessons under the trees allow them to be close to nature, which is close to their hearts. It is a place where they are free to be themselves,” he told The Star.
The size of the weekly classes gradually increased from 10 to 50 students, and also included dropouts, preschoolers and children with learning difficulties.
Photo: Astro Ulagam
Isaiah had to sacrifice a fair bit as the weekly classes were held after regular school hours and he had to travel over 200km from his house to the school and the Orang Asli village. His efforts paid off, however, when the students showed prowess and passing rates for their English exams shot up to 80% from 30% from before he got there.
Isaiah told The Star, “I initially envisioned myself going to an urban school with bright students, the best infrastructure and supportive parents. So when I was first posted to this rural school, reality struck me. The environment was not conducive and there was a negative perception towards Orang Asli pupils, even by some teachers. One even told me not to try too hard. I believe in them and made it my goal to challenge others’ perception. One’s ethnicity should never be a barrier to education”.
At the moment, Isaiah is pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Policy and Leadership at the State University of New York, and is not in the Sekolah Pokok anymore.
Speaking from his 8 years of experience with the Orang Asli students, he said that he came to see there were many factors affecting their education and that he is searching for a way to balance these factors to provide them with better education opportunities.
“I hope to be a voice for the Orang Asli children, regardless of my capacity or position,” he added.
By: Celestine Foo