Since gaining independence in 1957, the government of Malaysia has introduced various programmes to improve the quality of life of the Orang Asli (aboriginal people). The Ministry of Education, for example, is committed in providing education for all including the children of Orang Asli. However, whilst the number of Orang Asli children enrolled in primary and secondary schools has increased significantly over the last decade, the dropout rate among them is still high. This has been attributed to factors such as culture, school location, poverty, pedagogy and many more. The discussion in this article is drawn upon findings from fieldwork study at an Orang Asli village in Johor, Malaysia. This article discusses efforts in raising educational attainment of the Orang Asli through the implementation of the Clusters of Excellence Policy. In so doing it highlights the achievement of the policy and issues surrounding its implementation at the site.
Malaysia is one of the Newly Industrialised Countries (Bożyk, 2006) and ranks 28 in term of GDP per capita and 21 in term of ease of doing business (The World Bank, 2010). It is one of the most multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries in Southeast Asia (Brown, 2005) with a population of 1 28,717,780 of which 65% are Bumiputeras , 26% Chinese, 8% Indians, and 1% other ethnic groups (Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2012). Whilst it is not the intent of this paper to engage in a detailed discussion of the history of Malaysia, even in the earlier works of key figures in the field of comparative and international education—such as Sadler (1900), Kandel (1933) and Hans (1959)— there has been an emphasis on the importance of examining “educational phenomena within the broader socio-political contexts in which they occur” (Crossley, 2000, p. 321). Hence, in our attempt to understand the issues related to the education of Orang Asli (the indigenous minority of Peninsular Malaysia), context—including historical context—“does matter more than many policymakers and educational researchers realise” (Crossley, 2012, p. 8). Prior to the colonisation period, much of the focus of education in Malaysia was on the inculcation of religious values and acquiring of skills vital for survival, such as fishing and farming for boys, and cookery and weaving for girls (Ministry of Education Malaysia (MoEM), 2009). Further education was obtained by devoting time as apprentices, living with a guru and learning various skills from the latter. By early nineteenth century, many pondok schools or madrasah (religious schools) were built by prominent Islamic scholars in the states of Kedah, Perak, Terengganu, Kelantan and Penang (MoEM, 2009). a Correspondence can be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org Journal of International and Comparative Education, 2012, Volume 1, Issue 2 ISSN 2232-1802
MOHD ASRI MOHD NOOR
Although Christian missionary schools had been established during the colonisation period by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, they did not garner much response from the Malays, who feared that Christianity would influence their children. The primary interest of the British during the earlier colonial period was commercial. To maximise the exploitation of Malayan resources profitably, the British adopted an ‘open door’ policy towards Chinese and Indian immigrants. This policy has lasting effects on the population structure of the country by polarising Malaya both in terms of ethnic disparities and class differences (Po-chu, 1999). This created problems closely linked with urbanisation, employment patterns and above all education (Watson, 1982, p. 92). Although the educational policies that developed in Malaya were largely defined by individuals on the spot rather than some kind of long-term Machiavellian colonial plans on the part of...