KUALA LUMPUR — Suhairyzal Majid is the epitome of a successful Orang Asli student who has done well academically despite living in the interior and having to make do with limited facilities.
A Form Four student of Sekolah Menengah Sains Tuanku Jaafar in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan, the 16-year-old’s siblings have also done well for themselves.
Suhairyzal and his family are part of the Temuan ethnic group from Kampung Orang Asli Guntur, 38km from Kuala Pilah.
His six older siblings are graduates and work in the pharmacy, banking, accountancy, engineering, teaching and medical fields.
Suhairyzal is one of 44 Orang Asli students whose excellent academic performance earned them a place at full residential schools nationwide, in addition to 62 Orang Asli children in Mara junior science colleges and cluster schools.
Suhairyzal is not embarrassed by his ethnicity but takes pride in being an Orang Asli capable of competing with other Malaysians.
He received his early education at Sekolah Kebangsaan Tengkek where he scored five As in his Ujian Peperiksaan Sekolah Rendah, which earned him a place in a science residential school.
Last year, he scored seven As and two Bs in the PT3 examination, but felt a little disappointed.
“I was expecting nine As but ended up with only seven. However, the failure has spurred me to target better results in SPM (Sijil Pelajaraan Malaysia) next year,” he said at an empowerment programme for Orang Asli students at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) in Serdang.
Suhairyzal resolved to do well in school after experiencing the hardship his family has endured. His father is an od-job worker who earns RM500 a month and his mother is a housewife.
“I know the only way to get out of poverty is to get a good education,” he said, addingthat his siblings also drummed into him the importance of a sound educational foundation.
The computer engineering hopefulsaid he wants to help other Orang Asli children improve in their studies.
“The drop-out rate among them is high and many of them have zero IT knowledge. In fact, some of them don’t even know what a computer is, let alone use one,” he said.
Only one per cent of the 14,000 Orang Asli students at secondary schools across the country are categorised as outstanding.
According to the Education Ministry, only 20 per cent of Orang Asli students completed their secondary education compared to the national average of 72 per cent in 2013.
Only 61 per cent of pupils at primary schools catering to Orang Asli children managed to pass all the core subjects, compared to the national average of 87 per cent.
In addition, 35 per cent of Sekolah Kebangsaan Asli schools are categorised by the ministry as Band 6 and 7 schools because of their poor performance. Only one per cent of mainstream schools fall within these categories.
A round-table conference organised by the ministry’s Education Performance and Delivery Unit in 2016 resolved to increase the number of Orang Asli students placed at full residential schools.
The unit collaborated with UPM and the Orang Asli Development Department to implement various initiatives, one of which is the empowerment programme.
UPM Faculty of Human Ecology senior lecturer Dr Mohd Roslan Rosnan said the programme comprises three elements — mentoring sessions and attitude and personality formation, learning styles, and appreciation of values and culture.
“The main problem with Orang Asli students is their lack of self confidence,” he said, adding many students are apprehensive about making themselves noticed even if they are “brilliant”.
The second phase of the programme will be held in September in Pangkor with the involvement of the students’ parents, and the third phase is scheduled for January at UPM.
Mohd Roslan said a group of top-scoring Orang Asli students will act as mentors to fellow students.
“This will motivate the younger ones to follow in the senior students’ footsteps,” he said, adding that the success stories would be compiled into a book to inspire children from other indigenous communities.