Malaysian in the running for global prize

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian Samuel Isaiah’s dedication to nurturing Orang Asli children has put him among 10 finalists for the prestigious Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2020.

The teacher from SK Runchang, Pahang, made the top 10 list from a selection of over 12,000 nominations and applications from more than 140 countries, the London-based Varkey Foundation said yesterday.

Isaiah, 33, who teaches English, said the honour represents Malaysian teachers’ capabilities and struggles, and highlights the Orang Asli community.

“It’s high time we spoke about indigenous people’s potential.

“With the right policies, resources, intervention, pedagogy and environment, they can achieve amazing things.

“Putting my children in the international spotlight is one of the best things this award can do for me, ” he said in an interview with The Star.

Malaysian teacher Samuel Isaiah makes final 10 for US$1 mln Global Teacher Prize 2020
Malaysian teacher Samuel Isaiah has been named a top ten finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020, in partnership with @UNESCO. Now in its sixth year, the US$1 million award is the largest prize of its kind. Image via Twitter\Global Teacher Prize.

If he wins the US$1mil (RM4.3mil) prize given by the foundation in partnership with Unesco, Isaiah wants to build an educational hub that caters to Orang Asli education, social welfare and well-being.

The challenges the community faces in accessing education, he said, are interconnected.

“Matters such as malnutrition and poverty affect their performance in school as well.

“The hub will work with one Orang Asli community at a time and they will be central in the decision-making process. We need to listen to their voices.

“It will also require collaboration with non-governmental organisations, the Education Ministry and people from various expertise.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse for indigenous communities, said Isaiah, adding that digital literacy and online education does not work well for Orang Asli schoolchildren due to poverty and the lack of infrastructure.

“Efforts by schools have been commendable but there is a limit to what they can do.

“The hub will address all these problems, ” he added.

Every year, the Global Teacher Prize recognises an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession and underlines the important role teachers play in society.In a video message announcing Isaiah’s nomination, British actor and comedian Stephen Fry said the teacher provided laptops and tablets for his students through a national crowdfunding campaign.

“You dedicate yourself to inspiring your pupils to dream big and to connect to the outside world.

“This has resulted in your school’s average pass rate in English increasing from 30% to between 80% and 85%.

“Congratulations, Samuel, and thank you for everything you do, ” Fry said.

Unesco (education) assistant director-general Stefania Giannini hopes Isaiah’s story will inspire aspiring teachers and highlight the work of Malaysian teachers and educators throughout the world.

“The Global Teacher Prize helps put the teacher’s voice at the heart of our mission to champion inclusive learning opportunities for children and young people all over the world, especially the most marginalised and disadvantaged, during this sudden and unprecedented disruption to global education, ” Giannini said.

Varkey Foundation and the Global Teacher Prize founder Sunny Varkey said this year has seen teachers go above and beyond to keep young people learning, adding that teachers should be applauded for their creativity, compassion and resolve to fulfil every child’s right to a good education.

The award ceremony will be held virtually on Dec 3 and hosted by Fry from the Natural History Museum in London.

Samuel is a Fulbright scholar pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Policy and Leadership in State University of New York.

Last year, he was recognised as one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2019 – an annual award that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes – for his work with the Orang Asli children.

Another Malaysian teacher, Norhailmi Abdul Mutalib, was also among the 50 educators shortlisted for the 2020 prize.

Learning English under the trees works wonders for Orang Asli children

When Samuel Isaiah, a teacher at SK Runchang, here noticed a dip in classroom attendance early this year, he decided to do something unique that would get the Orang Asli students to come back and attend lessons. 

The 32-year-old English teacher introduced “Sekolah Pokok”, where he goes into the Runchang Orang Asli settlement twice a week after school hours and conducts English lessons under the trees.

Samuel, who was posted to the school in 2012, said he picked two different locations in the settlement, where he would conduct English lessons every Wednesday and Friday for the Jakun tribe children.

“In the beginning, about 10 children attended the Sekolah Pokok. Now I have more than 50 pupils aged between six and 14 years old. 

Even some who had previously quit secondary school are now looking forward to attending lessons under the trees. 

The environment, which is close to their nature has probably kept them eager to attend lessons.

“I make sure lessons are fun as they learn English through unique methods. 

They use tablets with headphones, group activities, singing sessions, view pre-recorded videos and also use the ukulele. 

Some who had earlier quit school (SK Runchang) have returned to the classroom,” he said when met.

The former Universiti Utara Malaysia and Teachers Training Institute (Penang campus) graduate said he decided to bring the classroom to the children and help create a learning environment in which the children felt comfortable and secure.

Pic by NSTP/Courtesy of  PADU
Pic by NSTP/Courtesy of PADU

“The trees provide shade and the pupils sit on canvass laid on the ground. 

We paste some learning materials on the trees nearby to help create a classroom-like atmosphere, Whatever has been taught in the classroom will be shared with the children under the trees.

“None of the pupils are complaining as they are more focused on the lessons. I remember after receiving the approval from the school (to hold the classes under the trees), I met some of the parents and told them about Sekolah Pokok. They were happy to cooperate,” said Samuel who teaches Standard Five and Six classes.

The third of five siblings, Samuel said when he arrived at the school, his main aim was to make sure the Orang Asli pupils learnt and spoke English.

“I blended with their style and expressed my creativity. We sang songs, played games and musical instruments.”

It was an emotional and heartbreaking day for pupils of SK Runchang, an Orang Asli school near here, as they bade farewell to English teacher Samuel Isaiah, 32. Some Year Four pupils were crying, while the teacher appeared at a loss for words. To cheer them up, Isaiah played the ukelele, which he had used in the classroom, before all of them sat and sang songs

I emphasised English as a language first, subject second, and following that, many started to look forward to speaking English. I treated the children like my family and helped to build their confidence.

“Since 2013, the passing rate for the English subject at the school is around 80 per cent, compared to 30 per cent previously. 

Pic by NSTP/Courtesy of  PADU
Pic by NSTP/Courtesy of PADU

We have produced pupils who scored A’s in their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah. 

English is now not alien to the pupils here as many can speak the language. Some parents come to me saying that they are impressed to hear their children sing English songs at home. This certainly inspires me,” he added.

Samuel’s unique method of teaching English has since become viral on social media. 

The creative teacher had also previously introduced an international e-mail exchange project for his pupils and raised funds to purchase tablets for his classroom.

Source : THE STAR / NST

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