From the 20th to 25th of September 2022, our team visited the Temiar Tribe of the Orang Asli Community in Kelantan Malaysia to explore the use of CaseStudy that was specifically designed and created for 100% offline remote learning. As an education solutions consultancy working to create learning bridges in underrepresented Southeast Asia communities, The Patatas has been researching ways to help the rural communities in the area of education. Through partnership with Projek57, a local NGO that focuses on helping Orang Asli Youth education, we were able to organise this trip to learn more about the needs of Temiar Tribe and explore possible ways to help them.
As a marginalised group, many of the challenges the Orang Asli face are hidden from the mainstream discourse. The most worrying issue is the Orang Asli literacy rate, which was only 51 percent in 2008 compared to the national literacy rate of 93.1 percent in 2010. As few such studies have been conducted, this data is the most up to date of Orang Asli literacy rates. What is worrying is that the rates could have been even more adversely affected by the recent pandemic.
The Temiar Tribe welcomed us warmly and we had many interactions and conversations with the community through our stay. We visited the village to hear their own personal accounts and experience life from their point of view. Through this, we could more thoroughly understand the educational challenges that they faced. It brought a different perspective on how we could collaborate with the community to make education more accessible.
The village was located about 234 meters above sea level and while the road up was only about 30km, it took us nearly two hours to travel that distance due to the terrain.
Electricity is a resource that this cluster of houses have no access to. When we headed up the mountain, we passed around one to two Kampungs (villages) along the main trail. Only the Kampungs at the lower trail had access to electricity. That seemed a bit strange because infrastructure such as power lines were present but the lines were not connected.
At night, it gets pitch dark and villagers would have to use lanterns to navigate their way around. For students it becomes an inconvenience to study without a good light source. The lack of a good study environment may hinder the students’ ability to concentrate on their studies.
Network reception was extremely spotty as well. Even though it seemed that every family had one smartphone, it does not mean that they had access to the Internet. Any app or platform that relied on data to send or receive messages would only be transmitted at certain times. This inconvenience puts students as a disadvantage in unequal access to quality materials and information compared to their peers in other regions.
Some parents also mentioned that due to certain issues, they prefer to send their children to schools that are located further away even though traveling in and out of the village is difficult because of the terrain. The village itself has its own school, but some parents believe that the schools that are located further away provided more quality education because of the schools’ ability to access more resources.
This is where CaseStudy can come in to plug the gap. CaseStudy is a briefcase packed with customisable audio-visual materials important for conducting classes in rural communities. We have put together equipment that does not require electricity or Internet.
While keeping the limitations faced in mind, we help students in rural communities to access educational resources digitally. By first establishing reliable access to materials and securing a permanent location, we could broadcast a network that would cover the entire cluster of houses in the village. This would mean that the children and even the parents could access the curriculum or educational materials even at night. Thus, the most pertinent thing to do would be to establish a higher quality of education in the current village school. However, that leads us to the next problem that the village faces.
Malaysia has a government agency, The Department of Orang Asli Development (Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli), abbreviated JAKOA. This agency oversees all the affairs of the Orang Asli including education. The government set up this committee in hopes of improving the livelihood of the Orang Asli through eradicating poverty, improving their health and promoting education. However, there seems to be a gap in knowledge of community needs as the curriculum that is currently being taught does not seem to meet the current needs, as evident by the high rates of illiteracy amongst the students. This reiterates the point on why many parents prefer to send their children to boarding schools rather than the school in the village.
This is why Projek57 and AsliGen(a charity organisation helping Orang Asli education) believe in developing a curriculum that is targeted at the Orang Asli community. They have collaborated with another organisation to form this curriculum. They are currently in the midst of digitising it and making it more interactive. However, they lack the platform and resources to distribute the materials to students. Projek57 and AsliGen hope to upload this content to the CaseStudy unit to benefit teachers and students. Teachers can load different files into CaseStudy based on their teaching style and their students’ learning pace. This can aid in tailoring an educational curriculum more suited for the community.
Obstacle #3: Shortage of educators
During our visit, we found out that the village school also suffers from a lack of educators. Though there are state sent teachers, it is insufficient for the growing student population. Due to a possible lack of census, there remains an unknown number of children who are not enrolled in the school and lack education. This was evident in an event that Projek57 and AsliGen Legacy organised during our visit. We prepared snacks and drinks for an estimated number of 50 children, but about 120 children showed up. We adapted and split the pre-packed goodie bags so that there was enough snacks and gifts for everyone.
This might happen again once they build the school. Fortunately, the teacher and project lead at this school is Nicole Siti who is also a member of the Temiar Tribe. She has a vested interest in the community for the long run. Nicole Siti has been training teachers from the Temiar community so that should an educator leave, there are still enough teachers.
In view of this, CaseStudy can aid to ease the manpower crunch by allowing students to learn remotely. CaseStudy can effectively broadcast an Intranet signal up to *fifty devices within a radius of 50 metres. As mentioned earlier, each family has one smartphone. Students can go to their village school to download the school materials on their devices. The uploaded materials can range from weekly modular learning worksheets to videos of a local teacher. Students can learn the materials independently without needing to go for physical classes. This can help to keep class sizes more manageable, teachers can focus more on weaker students in the classroom whereas faster students may advance at their own speed through self-learning at home. Thus, it reduces the workload stress on teachers and the need for more teachers to handle large class sizes.
At the end of our visit, The Patatas hardly scratched the surface of the challenges that this Tribe is facing, much less the entire Orang Asli community. But the consensus among Projek57, AsliGen Legacy and The Patatas is that access to education is the first step in helping the Orang Asli community to make informed decisions that affect their future. While there will be obstacles setting up a curriculum involving a CaseStudy unit, the benefits it reaps are much higher. CaseStudy will definitely be a vital tool in reducing the educational inequality the Orang Asli face.
Every site poses both common and localised challenges. Through this trip, we gained a new perspective on the challenges that this community faces. It has been a really meaningful trip that spotlighted areas we overlooked. Following up on this trip, we hope to be able to explore ways to further help this community.