Some students fail in their studies, not due to their mental inadequacy, but because they do not have equal access to facilities and resources enjoyed by students from well-endowed backgrounds, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
The Orang Asli have generally had a rough time over the years.
In particular, their run-ins and conflicts with state authorities, corporations and business people over their customary land, ancestral cemeteries, livelihood, and spiritual and cultural life.
The emerging problem of the education of Orang Asli schoolchildren caused by the temporary closure of schools during the movement control order is a case that implies neglect of this indigenous community.
The Malaysian Insight recently reported that many Orang Asli students, particularly those in the interior and rural areas, have been way behind in their studies because they do not have access to the internet and online study materials since the movement control order was enforced last March.
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These unfortunate students have a lot of catching up to do, at a juncture in their schooling life where other students with internet access, especially those in the urban and semi-urban areas, have already made great strides in their studies during the movement control order phase. The Orang Asli students concerned would have been able to carry on with their studies through an online platform had assistance been put in place by the authorities at the start of the movement control order.
It is vital that mobile phones and laptops are made available at, say, community centres where the students can get their study materials and online instructions from teachers, apart from the government providing financial assistance for monthly internet charges. Some parents can’t afford to have mobile phones and laptops. Incidentally, climbing a tree to get an internet connection is not an excellent solution for students in remote areas who have the necessary electronic gadgets.
It would be unfortunate and sad if some students eventually drop out of school because they can’t cope with their studies due to the movement control order interruption and internet inaccessibility. Hopefully, more educational assistance, such as extra classes, would be provided for the benefit of these Orang Asli students.
After all, some students generally fail in their studies, not necessarily due to their mental inadequacy, but because they do not have equal access to facilities and resources enjoyed by students from well-endowed backgrounds. Such is the general state of the Orang Asli community that necessitates financial assistance and other resources.
Equally crucial is the understanding and appreciation by outside people of the indigenous community’s cultural and socioeconomic challenges.
One starting point where outside people can learn more about the Orang Asli is the school itself. An inclusive school curriculum would expose students, particularly non-Orang Asli, to the history, culture and belief system of the indigenous community. Through such an enlightened curriculum, students can appreciate the importance of, say, customary land to the indigenous people, which is closely intertwined with their culture.
This would also help to explain the anger and frustration experienced by the Orang Asli when their ancestral land is transgressed and occupied for commercial purposes such as logging, oil palm, mining and housing, especially when they are not consulted about such land use in the first place.
Information and knowledge about the Orang Asli, as well as the Orang Asal, should also be made widely available in the larger society, such as in universities, libraries and also the media.
It is time that we treated our indigenous people as fellow citizens with democratic rights and dignity. Indeed, their lives matter, too.