Saturday, February 3, 2007

My New Orang Asli Student

Today, Saturday, there was a new student in my 1u class. That's her, in the red shirt, with her family, and Perak State Education Director Datuk Mohammed Zakaria Mohd Noor on the left. They are at her family home near Tapah. Her name is Has Hariff, and she is an Orang Asli. "Orang Asli" means "original people". They are the indigenous people on the Malay peninsula. The Malays consider them backwards, and do very little for them, other than try to exploit them and steal their land.

Her story
originally hit the papers last year, when she achieved 5 A's in her UPSR examinations. This despite her father earning only 300 Ringgit a month (about $86) as a rubber tapper, and her having to study by candlelight.
She wanted to get into one of the government schools for special students. An offer was extended to her, but she turned it down, because it would take her too far from her family. She wanted to go to the school where I teach, Sekolah Menegah Sains Raja Azlan Shah (SERATAS) in Taiping, because she has relatives who live in the area. Of course, since she is an Orang Asli, her application was put on hold.

The reason given by the education minister pictured smiling with her family in the photo op above? According to the Malaysian Star:

He said getting into the school was not easy as about 96,000 applicants were vying for the 6,000 places available there.

SERATAS does not have 6,000 students. There are a little over 600 students. If there were 6,000 students, they'd be living in tents in the Lake Gardens, and we'd be having classes in the parking deck at the new market downtown. I also doubt that there are 96,000 students fighting to get into SERATAS. 9,600? OK, maybe. 960? that might be a little too low. Obviously Mr. Zakaria was greatly inflating things to cover himself and the Education Departments indifference.

It wasn't until an article ran in the Malaysian Star on January 25th that something was done. On Friday, she was waiting in the staff room with her relatives. They looked at me curiously when I walked in after my last class, and they were told that I am the native english teacher. As I headed to the library to use the computers there, they were being shown around, then Has was taken care of by an upper form girl.

Usually we don't have to work on Saturdays, but we are going to be taking two extra days off for Chinese New Year, so we can have a nine day holiday. We have to make up those days in advance, and today was one of those days. We were only told as we were walking out the door yesterday that today was a makeup day, and would be on a Friday schedule. So I walk into my first class, 1U, and she is sitting there in the second row. Since it was 7:20 am on a Saturday, I didn't want to bombard them with a lot of information, so we played a spelling game. She was curious at first, then seemed to be having some trouble understanding me, from what I could see on her face.

I hope she can come in and do well. There is a lot of pressure on the students in this school, and they have a very rigid and difficult schedule. The new principal has made things even tougher than they were before, and some of the students are already starting to crack from the pressure.

Ten girls had to be sent to Taiping Hospital with hysteria, from all the stress, work, and lack of sleep. I hope she can handle all the stress, and do well.

Has has struggled to overcome her circumstances, and has big dreams. It will be interesting to have her in class, and watch her progress in fulfilling those dreams. I am rooting for her to have the kind of life she wants for herself and her family.