The Teacher Bringing Tech To Orang Asli Classrooms

Stay-at-home orders have left most of us overlooked, even World Teachers’ Award finalist Samuel Isaiah.

Unshaven, hair falling to shoulder height while dining in a Kuantan cafe, a girl was looking at him. She looked like she was trying to remember where she had met him.

He looked back at her, thinking she couldn’t be more than 15. He realized that she was one of his former students from many years ago.

“Do you remember me?” He asked.

“Yes, you are sir. Samuel, she replied.

This brief exchange instantly reminded him of the reasons he was inspired to be a teacher for the students of Orang Asli. It was never about their academic performance, but about making education meaningful to them.

If neglected, students in Orang Asli communities would drop out of school at a young age. More than being pushed into the workforce, they might also get married at a young age. Samuel’s mission is to change this vicious circle.

It’s not about you, Sam. It’s about your children. “

Samuel leads a presentation / Image credit: Samuel Isaiah

Since 2014, the Global Teacher Prize has counted many Malaysian teachers among their 50 finalists.

In 2020, Samuel was in the top 10 for successful crowdfunding of laptops and tablets to equip classrooms in SK Runchang, Pahang.

Despite being recognized for what has been dubbed the Nobel Prize for the teaching fraternity, Samuel told Vulcan Post he never wanted to apply.

The only reward he was looking for was to get his students to believe in their own potential.

“But before I left for the United States to pursue my Masters in Education in July 2019, a speaker and mentor said to me, ‘Sam, I want you to apply for this,’” he said.

Not seeing the point of glitter or glamor, he replied. But she persisted in telling him:

“Sam, you’re going to do this for your kids. In your eight years of teaching, the Global Teacher Prize, it will give you the best platform to share the amazing abilities and things that your kids can do. It’s not about you, Sam, it’s about your children.

Without any expectations, he witnessed Zoom’s numerous trials and interviews with the judges, pouring out everything he believed in.

He also shared about his principles which have been applied through the projects in Orang Asli communities.

He funded on Give.my to help equip classrooms with tablets and laptops / Image credit: Samuel Isaiah

Being in the top 10 was an honor for him when the results were announced in November 2020.

Although he did not have the chance to physically meet his students at school, he received phone calls from their parents. All the cheers he got from his students basically conveyed the same message: “If Mr. Sam can do it, I can do it too.”

In addition, the recognition was able to help SK Runchang. The school received a nice sum of money from the government.

Samuel also contacted several NGOs to plan his next steps to improve the school.

But there is still a big problem …

Infrastructure Still lacking in rural areas

Although he equipped his classrooms with laptops and tablets in 2015, the next problem was the lack of infrastructure. In addition, many of these devices have not been refurbished for 6 years.

When the 2020 MCO struck, teachers, students and their parents in communities of Orang Asli had a colossal void to fill.

For example, even though teachers were delivering lessons online, without gadgets, technology, or connectivity, kids couldn’t access them.

“What teachers in these rural communities have done instead is go door to door to deliver and collect their worksheets and homework. It’s the best they can do, ”said Samuel.

It is also painful for the parents. Imagine having a single smartphone in a family with four children.

Parents – who also tend to be undereducated – had to delegate which homework was for which child and attempt to guide them through it.

Their teachers had to go house to house to drop off their homework during the AGC / Image credit: Samuel Isaiah

“The COVID-19 pandemic has virtually wiped out any form of appropriate education, especially in the underprivileged community,” he said.

“The sad fact is that students are being left behind because, in perspective, whatever education they receive comes only from school. They don’t have any other source of education, they don’t have classes, YouTube, or online materials. Nada. Zero.”

This was the tipping point for Samuel, realizing that anything teachers could do was severely limited on a larger scale.

It must be a collaborative effort with multiple sectors, government, NGOs and businesses coming together to help these communities.

Study to overcome obstacles

Today, Samuel is on sabbatical from teaching to pursue a master’s degree in educational policy at the State University of New York.

He realized that in order to tackle the problems on a larger scale, he had to study and learn from what was being done in other successful countries.

He further explained that this would allow him to help touch the lives of not only the 10% of students who succeed, but also the 90% of students who do not. Just like the 15-year-old he met at the restaurant.

Once back at Pahang school, he plans to empower more teachers through training and workshops using his methodology.

He will teach them how they can adapt and come up with their own methods. “And if I can support this with research and academia, I believe I can make significant changes for the Orang Asli community,” he concluded.

  • You can read more about what we wrote about Samuel Isaiah here.
  • You can read more educational articles than we have written here.

Featured Image Credit: Samuel Isaiah

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