Lessons under the trees bearing fruit

PETALING JAYA: It was not the usual classroom as Orang Asli pupils of different ages gathered eagerly under the trees near their village homes for English lessons.

Samuel Isaiah is the teacher behind this innovative idea.

He believes in making learning more meaningful for the pupils in SK Runchang, Pahang, by introducing various fun projects in his classroom.

In the past, Isaiah had raised funds up to over RM12,000 to buy tablets for his pupils, and started an international e-mail exchange project where they could communicate with volunteers around the world.

Using music as a tool for learning, he and his friends had even pooled money to buy 22 sets of ukulele for his pupils to learn English by singing songs.

Although they enjoyed his lessons in school, there were two major problems – poor attendance and high number of dropouts.

That was when he decided to bring the classroom to the pupils.

He set up “Sekolah Pokok” where he conducted English lessons – singing songs and teaching poetry – at the Orang Asli settlement.

“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 said.

Soon, the weekly class grew from 10 to 50 pupils, and included dropouts, preschool kids and those with learning difficulties.

It was hard work for Isaiah, who spent after school hours for his weekly classes, especially as he had to travel over 200km daily between his house to the school and the Orang Asli settlement.

However, the fruits of his labour became apparent when his pupils were confident to converse in English, and the passing rates for their English exams went up to 80%, as compared to 30% before he arrived.Born in Kuantan, Isaiah related how he had big ideas even when he was a trainee teacher, questioning many things that were being taught to them.

“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,” he related.

However, he decided to stay the course because he fell in love with the pupils.

“I believe in them and made it my goal to challenge others’ perception. One’s ethnicity should never be a barrier to education,” he said.

Recently, Isaiah, 32, left the school and is currently in the State University of New York as a Fulbright scholar, pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Policy and Leadership.

“Being with the Orang Asli pupils for eight years, I’ve come to realise that there are a lot of factors affecting their education. I’m trying to seek a balance in all these factors to bring better education for them.

“I hope to be a voice for the Orang Asli children, regardless of my capacity or position,” he said.

For his efforts, Isaiah is recognised as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2019, an annual award that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes.
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