Kedap: Increasing Penan literacy awareness

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Atika conducts the class for Penan parents at Tadika Sedidik Long Jenalong.

TADIKA Sedidik Long Jenalong is filled with laughter every Monday afternoon, but not it is the usual kind.

The kindergarten teacher Atika Fazila Wallpan, 23, looks on earnestly as she monitors the classroom.

The ‘pupils’ are a bit different – they are not the ‘usual’ pre-schoolers.

They are Penan mothers from Kampung Long Jenalong and the nearby Kampung Long Latei, in Ulu Baram.

In addition to carrying out early childhood education (ECE) activities, Atika is entrusted with conducting a class for eight adults, who are the same age as her sister and mother, every Monday afternoon from 1pm to 4pm.

Atika says as a teacher, she strives to add creativity to her teaching sessions so as to continue encouraging and motivating her ‘students’.

The class is implemented under the Adult Class Programme for Native and Indigenous Parents, known as Kedap 3.0.

Initiated by the Ministry of Education (MoE) Malaysia in 2008, the programme aims to reduce the illiteracy rate among the Orang Asli and Penan communities in Malaysia.

The three-phased Kedap covers essential self-development topics such as personal hygiene, nutrition, health education, vital life skills, as well as basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Lifelong learning

Amidst the hustle and bustle of her daily routine, Rinai Din Angun, a mother of three, sets aside four hours every Monday afternoon to pursue her lifelong quest for knowledge.

The Sedidik kindergarten in Long Jenalong is a 30-minute motorcycle ride from Rinai’s village, Kampung Long Latei.

Despite so, the 53-year-old Penan remains steadfast in her commitment to learning.

Kampung Long Jenalong in Ulu Baram has a community hall and a church.

“I attended the Kedap class three times before in Long Bedian. Back then, I was a replacement for a student who could not attend class.

“Still, I was not satisfied with my level of learning. Therefore, I hope that by taking this class, I could master the basic literacy skills. That is my goal.”

For Rinai, the Kedap programme is a godsend – she has always wanted to attend school since she was a girl, but her father could not afford it.

Rinai can see many positive changes happening in the Penan community, thanks to the infrastructure development and assistance provided by the government.

“With school being too far from home, my father did not want me to be away from the family.

“I’m so happy with the Kedap programme at Tadika Sedidik Long Jenalong, as it is much closer to my village.”

Talking about steadfast, Rinai remembers how her husband once mocked her for still not being good at reading and writing despite having attended three classes.

“I was not discouraged. I told him that he could not stop me from studying.

“If I could make cookies and chips by taking those skills class, why shouldn’t I succeed in the Kedap class? I have high hopes of being able to read and write by attending this class.”

Tadika Sedidik Long Jenalong is where the Kedap 3.0 literacy programme for Penan adults is currently being carried out.

Rinai is very determined, believing that education is the key to changing her family’s life.

She is also happy because all her three children have done well in education: two are in the teachers training institute, and another is studying in Kuching.

“I don’t want my child to be like me; I don’t want them to work hard day and night, but still be living a hard life. I want them to work with the government so that there is hope for a better life and a better future.”

Rinai says she can see many positive changes happening in the Penan community, thanks to the infrastructure development and various assistance provided by the government.

“As a parent, I always remind other parents to prioritise their children’s education, and ensure that they attend school.

“Sometimes, children may be reluctant to go to school, but our responsibility is to instil in them the passion for learning, and encourage them to persevere.”

Never too old to learn

Fellow villager Betty Ugat has never felt ashamed of attending the Kedap class.

She feels that the programme is great because it allows people like her, who never went to school, to learn counting, recognising letters, and gaining some basic life skills.

“There are also other friends my age who say it’s a bit too late to learn.

“I have to disagree. This Kedap class is a golden opportunity to improve myself,” says the 39-year-old.

Betty regards the adult literacy class as ‘essential for self-development’.

Nonetheless, she admits that it was difficult when she started, seeing that she never attended school before.

“I never gave up.

“Right now, I know my ABCs and can count from 1 to 100,” she smiles.

“When my grandchildren ask me about their studies, at least I know enough to guide them.

“If I didn’t attend the Kedap class, I wouldn’t understand or know their progress.”

Just like Rinai, Betty regards the class for adults as ‘essential for self-development’.

“Adult education is essential for our growth and development. We should study together, regardless of our age. This is for our benefit, and also for building a brighter future for our next generation.”

Betty says apart from learning to read, count and write, she and her classmates are also learning other life skills such as handicrafts-making, gardening and farming.

Challenging task

Atika says that handling an adult class is not an easy feat, as these parents are like kindergarteners.

“When they first came in, they’re all like blank slates.”

“They’re very enthusiastic, but at times, they got distracted. Many times, I had to repeat myself – sometimes up to 20 times.

“Still, I’m so happy to see the mothers continuing to study very hard.”

Atika (standing, left) and her assistant with the seven Penan parents who are undergoing the Kedap 3.0 adult literacy programme at Tadika Sedidik Long Jenalong.

Atika is grateful to Sedidik for establishing this programme as means to support the Penan parents in Kampung Long Jenalong and Kampung Long Latei, in helping them gain knowledge – starting with literacy.

“Education is a powerful tool that can transform the lives of our children and parents.

“When the parents learn, they gain the knowledge and insights that they need to better understand and support their children’s education.

“They also develop a deeper appreciation for education, and its positive impact on their lives, their families and the community.”

For Atika, as a teacher she strives to add creativity to her teaching sessions so as to continue encouraging and motivating her ‘students’.

One way she does this is by finding as much information as possible from the Internet and applying them to her class.

“Children spend more time with their parents than with anyone else.

“Therefore, parents need to be educated, for them to change their mindset and view education as a valuable investment, rather than taking it for granted, like those before them had done in the past,” says Atika.