After Pos Tohoi deaths, where is Education Ministry’s promised cultural sensitisation policy for teachers?

Juli noted that dealing with Orang Asli children requires much care and dedication, and teachers must be well-prepared to handle them. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Juli noted that dealing with Orang Asli children requires much care and dedication, and teachers must be well-prepared to handle them. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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SUBANG JAYA, July 28 — The Education Ministry has yet to introduce its promised cultural sensitisation policy for teachers, especially those dealing with Orang Asli school children, an Orang Asli research expert and academic said yesterday.

This is following the deaths of several indigenous children in Pos Tohoi.

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas said that after the devastating incident where five of seven children were found dead after running away from their school hostel, reportedly for fear of disciplinary action for bathing in the river, many Orang Asli parents refused to send their children to schools.

“The ministry at that time said they were going to introduce a new policy about cultural sensitisation to teachers. As far as I know, that has not been done. Nobody was punished in the ministry or the teachers,” Colin said during a question and answer session at the Roundtable Dialogue on Orang Asli Children and Schooling at Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus here.

He claimed that since the incident, many of the Orang Asli parents did not want to send their children to school any more.

Also present at the forum was the Orang Asli Development Department director-general Prof Juli Edo.

Juli noted that dealing with Orang Asli children requires much care and dedication, and teachers must be well-prepared to handle them.

“We, as usual, allow parents to take court action. That is their right to get justice. But on our level, Jakoa is in discussion with the Education Ministry to place good teachers, dedicated teachers in schools. Not teachers who just do teaching work,” he said, in reply to an audience member who enquired about Jakoa follow-up action after the Pos Tohoi deaths.

“When teaching Orang Asli, there needs to be passion. If there is no passion, it won’t do. We hope the Education Ministry can approve our request for schools like these,” he said referring to Orang Asli populated schools.

In 2015, the families of seven Orang Asli children, who disappeared in 2015 from their boarding school in Pos Tohoi, Gua Musang — and of whom five died — filed negligence suits against the government.

Lawyer Gokul Radhakrishnan said the families of six victims filed a total of six suits at the High Court in Kota Baru, Kelantan, on August 13, seeking an undisclosed amount in damages and several declarations in relation to the rights of the Orang Asli.

The defendants include public officers from the Education Department, Jakoa, and officers involved in the search and rescue mission.

Gokul said the cause of action of the suit was negligence as well as breach of statutory, fiduciary and constitutional duties, and the legitimate expectation of the plaintiffs.

Only two surviving children were found on October 9, 2015, 47 days after their disappearance.

All four bodies, except for one, whose remains were never found, were buried in a single grave in Kampung Penad, Gua Musang, on October 25, 2015.

Poverty, bullying are leading causes for Orang Asli children to drop out of school

On the issue of school dropout rates among Orang Asli children, Colin, in his remarks, said that most Orang Asli students drop out from schools owing to poverty.

He said the number of Orang Asli school dropouts has increased, especially after the federal government cut subsidy spending for the said community.

“We have done studies and we know that there is a very strong correlation between why children stay in school, and why children do not stay in school, and it’s directly linked to poverty,” he added.

Colin said that in 1999, there was a huge drop in the Orang Asli school dropout rate, and in 2000, the number spiked, lamenting that this was because the reduction in government subsidies for Orang Asli.

He added that last year alone, there were 725 Orang Asli school dropout cases.

“This is precisely because of the cut in budget for Orang Asli education; Orang Asli parents cannot afford to send their children to school because of the fees.

“If you cut down the budget for Orang Asli education support, you can expect the dropout rate to also increase,” he added.

School teacher Samuel Isaiah, who teaches at SK Runchang in Pahang, an Orang Asli school, noted that many of his Orang Asli students drop out of secondary schools due to bullying, which includes use of racial slurs.

“Bullying is very rampant in my point of view. Especially in schools where there are not 100 per cent Orang Asli students. A lot of the time, my kids, when they leave Year Six and they go to secondary schools, they drop out of school really quickly, and most of the time when I ask them, bullying would be one of the main things they bring up because of their race, name-calling and things like that.

“So it’s a big issue,” he added.

Samuel said that the issue opened his eyes when a student in his village committed suicide last year, owing to several factors, one of which included bullying.

He also called for critical action to address bullying cases in schools, especially those attended by marginalised communities.

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