by volunteer: Betty L, Skim B; Bintangor
On 13th- 21st September 2014, I volunteered in a school holiday tuition camp with Impian Sarawak. The project was carried out for a local Iban community in Skim B, Bintagor. We volunteers stayed in the longhouses, which gave us an insight of the life and culture in the remote settlements of Sarawak. Throughout the week, we prepared our program and teaching materials in order to motivate and encourage education.
During one of the sessions, the children were asked ‘What can I do to serve others?’ They were told to think about their strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and plans to achieve their dreams. “Saya nak menjadi seorang perompak. (I want to be a robber.)” This was the answer given by an 11-year-old boy, Adam* when he was telling his ambition. It broke my heart, not because our education system fails to cultivate moral values, but because I saw a boy lacking affection and attention.
Adam stayed just next door in the longhouse I and three other volunteers were allocated. Each night, after dinner, we would prepare teaching materials for the next day in the Ruai Panjang, the open space or public corridor in the longhouse. Adam, together with other children of the longhouse would just hang around with their homework from school and asked for our coaching.To my surprise, Adam was almost incompetent in math as he can barely count up to 100. According to the curriculum of the mainstream school, children at his age should have already memorized the multiplication table, learned about weights, surface areas, volumes etc. I thought to myself, “How is he going to understand all these multiplications, divisions, etc. etc. if he can’t even count properly?”
So, we got the boy to write the numbers in a 10X10 table, memorize the multiplication tables… Adam happily did his ‘homework’, staying up with us until midnight while we were preparing teaching materials for the classes, although all his peers have already gone to bed. When he saw us during the day, he would enthusiastically promise us to finish his homework and ask us to teach him more. Don’t you see a boy who loves to learn? It’s not that he had dyscalculia or a special learning difficulty. He was just not being given adequate attention and guidance in school. He might be a little slow to learn but that should not be an excuse to deny his right to gain knowledge and adapt to survive in this society as a good individual.
All children love to learn. They are curious and eager to know more about this unfamiliar world. Who would love to be labeled as ‘stupid’, ‘failure’ or ‘hopeless’? They, too, love to be called smart or genius, and to have their abilities approved and recognized by the standards of this world. However, this basic right to learn was taken away by the flaws of our education system. Centralization of our Malaysian education system causes rigidity in the syllabus, and as a result, prevents efficient delivery of knowledge. Teachers are being trained to follow a schedule for the curriculum, and not with the pace and direction of their students. While those born in wealthier families can afford to spend on study aids, tuitions, coaching classes, or attend a more advantaged school in order to catch up with heir studies, what about those who cannot? Where you are born should not determine your destiny.
I feel there is a need to break the cycle of poverty which in turn will break the cycle of privilege at the societal level, thus ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity for education. It is also important to eliminate school finance disparities and ensure that schools serving low-income and minority students receive an equitable share of state and local funding. Other than that, we can also look into the methodology adopted to make learning more individualized, personalized and engaging for all students, so that education achieves it goals. Encouraging greater autonomy at schools by implementing school-based management should create an environment that is more conducive to learning.
Joining the Impian Sarawak tuition camp has definitely been one of the best decisions in my life. It was a rewarding and fulfilling experience for me. Among the many challenges I faced was to manage a classroom of students as this is my first time teaching, but I was happy to hear them discussing about the things we taught them. It was also encouraging when the parents and children asked whether we will be coming back to organize another program for them during the year-end holiday.
Even though I was the teacher for the camp, I have learned a lot from these lovely kids. Their small eager faces that looked up and listened, their enthusiasm, their dreams…. They are my inspiration.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.
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