Words by Janice Ng
Photos by Hamza Delbar and Yeong Hui Min
During our informative session with Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah (PACOS) Trust, executive director Puan Anne Lasimbang had stressed on the importance of providing quality education for the indigenous community; accrediting it as the organisation’s most effective approach in empowering them to this day. This statement was of strong conviction and resonated deeply with this author. Truly, as the late Nelson Mandela once said, education is the most powerful, life-changing weapon any individual can wield. Bearing frontline prominence of this initiative is the establishment of Community Learning Centres (CLC). This project was instigated by the organisation in 1993 with the purpose to introduce community kindergartens to villages which do not have preschools of their own. When early childhood education begun in primary schools later in 2009, CLCs slightly shifted their target group and catered to children below 4 years old.
CLC projects in general are designed to strive and embody PACOS Trust’s vision and tagline by ensuring inclusive, accessible and equitable quality education, as well as to advocate development, social empowerment and transformation. With the establishment of these several community kindergartens, children in those villages would then have acquired basic knowledge prior enrolling primary school. This prospect then creates a stepping stone in entitling them to secure better opportunities in life and thus improving socioeconomic standards and contributing greatly in breaking the cycle of poverty among the indigenous community.
While PACOS Trust may have introduced the CLCs, this initiative is championed by the communities themselves. This is such as CLCs are primarily set up upon the request of the villagers who perceives the benefit and need to establish a centre in their own village. Putting this into context, the organisation’s main role in this project is to assist in designing and developing the CLC while it is the villagers’ priority to ensure its completion, maintenance and full usage. There have also been several joint ventures in establishment of CLCs with predominantly volunteers as well as various organisations such as Raleigh International and Nestle Malaysia.
CLCs however not only solely focus on formal education in kindergartens and the occasional English night schools for adults. The community congregates at this place and engages with community-related activities, for example village meetings and workshops. CLCs also integrate both functions as a hub for traditional knowledge exchange with preschool and primary children, youths, adults (mostly women) and the elderly. Most knowledge are sourced from older people who are experienced and proficient in traditional customs such as education, community native languages, handicrafts, and traditional medicine. This will help sustain and preserve the community’s own indigenous heritage by supporting the growth of the local economy and in turn appeal to future generations to stay in their villages granting more options for local development. There are currently 26 multi-functional CLCs in villages throughout Sabah. 18 of the centres constitute kindergartens while others assist mothers in enhancing skills like cooking and crafting; an evident example would be our host at Kampung Kipouvo Homestay. The ISO Sabah team were given the opportunity to visit a few of the CLCs: Tadika Sinaran Ria and Kampung Kipouvo CLC.
Students of Tadika Sinaran Ria be hustling hard, getting some education done
A few friendly faces during our brief stay at Tadika Sinaran Ria
Located within the grounds of PACOS Trust’s very own headquarters, Tadika Sinaran Ria may be perceived as your typical, ordinary kindergarten from a glance. Children are segregated into groups of 13 students on average per class according to their age. Diversity is largely displayed with students hailing from surrounding villages of various indigenous communities such as Ungus, Murut and Sungai. While students from similar villages are placed in the same class due to slight differences in their local dialect, the children are highly encouraged to interact with students from different classes using a common spoken language of either Bahasa Malaysia and/or Kadazandusun language. Another striking factor of the school is their inclusivity of differentially abled children. Tadika Sinaran Ria ensures to place at least one differentially abled child in each class. Through this multifaceted diversity, the children are then nurtured to learn how to acknowledge another individual who perhaps be of different cultural heritage or competence(ies). While CLCs are generally regarded as private establishments, community kindergartens similarly with Tadika Sinaran Ria strictly adhere to the guidelines and syllabus of the Ministry of Education Malaysia (MOE).
Aside the MOE syllabus, an unique curriculum that intended to educate the children in their community’s traditional knowledge (TK) is also introduced and continuously improved in accordance with the needs and aspirations of the community. The TK programme explores numerous topics including local languages, traditional farming and agriculture methods, traditional music and musical instruments, cultural taboos as well as resource management knowledge of the various indigenous communities. Subject matters of TK are gathered collectively primarily with the assistance of the elders within the community. The community is therefore heavily involved in the school programmes, which is an important aspect of training and support for the development and early education of the children. This feature of TK thus exemplifies the community aspect of the CLC project.
Short poems in the Kadazandusun language lining the walls of Tadika Sinaran Ria
In the case of Tadika Sinaran Ria, the kindergarten persistently seeks the pursuit of the revival of mother tongue, namely the Kadazandusun language. Puan Rufina Koyou, the principal of this kindergarten and Education Coordinator for PACOS Trust, mentioned that the kindergarten teaches not only English and Malay language classes but also placed a special emphasis in teaching the Kadazandusun language. As most of the children mainly spoken Bahasa Malaysia prior attending preschool, this priority in imparting the mother tongue is of beneficial value as they later on are able to fluently communicate with their family especially their grandparents. In addition, with an expanded vocabulary from learning an additional language, it then thus would be an added advantage when the children enrol in primary school. Puan Rufina had also mentioned that Tadika Sinaran Ria integrates TK by organising themed months incorporating the indigenous culture, with examples brought up such as ‘Nature’ with a visit to the Kivatu Nature Farm located just next door of the preschool and in the month of May, the children are mainly exposed to all features of the Harvest Festival.
Puan Rufina Koyou; Headmistress of Tadika Sinaran Ria and Coordinator in Education for PACOS Trust
Staff of CLCs are also not judged and discriminated of their education background since the educators mostly comprised the villagers themselves. Any individual within a community who sees the need to educate, be it housewives, mothers, daughters, recent high school or university graduates, will be provided basic training who then become teachers in the schools. Puan Rufina had stated that the kindergarten is currently accepting youths for a teachers’ practical training. This is an initiative in collaboration with the Kindergarten Association of Sabah, where training in early childhood education inclusive of a 3 months’ practical for potential preschool teachers are provided at Sigma College. Puan Rufina also added on by mentioning that all current staff obtained their diplomas in education from that particular institution.
The CLC initiative has indeed proved to be a success with the community kindergartens proudly graduated over 3,000 students to date since the project’s inception, many of whom are currently pursuing their tertiary education in local colleges and universities throughout Malaysia.
PACOS Trust do also accept interns interested to contribute and acquired background in the early education field. Candidates will be assisting teachers in CLCs to develop and implement a specialised curriculum that incorporates TK studies for students. Candidates are also able to train teachers by imparting new skills – either teaching or managerial skills – to aid them in their work and management of CLC. Such expertise that is especially required is the knowledge in dealing with differentially abled children. Should you consider or desire yourself to be a potential candidate, do scroll your cursor for their website to the right of this page for further information.
“There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live” – John Adams
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