FOR every rung they climb up the education ladder, they fall two rungs back. That is the sad scenario prevailing among many Penan students.
To buck the trend, positive steps – no matter how small – taken to bring education to the tribal community are, indeed, giant steps towards promoting literacy among their young.
As an educationist puts it, the situation should be viewed with optimism – like the glass being half full, not half empty. A positive outlook is imperative.
Young Penans have proven worthy of early education.
Those living in Belaga District in one of the state’s remotest areas, are eager to study and remain in school.
The district has a total of 15 pre-schools, recording, between them, an impressive 94.15 percentage of children entering primary one.
The figure is impressive compared to Sebuah (78.31) and Baram (74.34) – and it is all the more so, considering the often hostile terrain of Belaga which is about three hours’ drive on logging track from the nearest town, Bintulu.
Another six hours’ ride through treacherous landscape is needed to reach Long Urun, a remote Penan resettlement village in the District.
The SK Long Urun pre-school in Belaga has enrolled a maximum number of students (25) for this year.
The figure indicates Penan children have access to education – at least, the initial part.
There are many reasons for the impressive attendance rate and one of the most obvious is the setting up of the Rumah Arau (hostel) of SK Long Urun near the pre-school.
Explained Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department, Datin Fatimah Abdullah:
“The Rumah Arau allows the parents, especially mothers, to stay close to the children while the latter attend school. This is mutually beneficial as both can draw comfort from one another’s presence. The bond between child and mother will remain strong.”
The setting up of the Rumah Arau exemplifies the respect and understanding of the government for the Penan’s complex culture.
“Penan people are close-knit – they need to be physically close to their families. The Rumah Arau allows this,” Fatimah said.
The hostel is set up solely for the purpose of encouraging Penan children to attend pre-school and prevent drop-outs. It is hoped this will produce the desired sustainability in their attendance rate.
Mothers can stay in the Rumah Arau while their children attend school and during weekends, both can return home if they so wish. Parents – in this case mothers – can stay in the hostel for free but it’s out of bounds to fathers.