M’sian in the running for global prize

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian Samuel Isaiah’s dedication to nurturing Orang Asli children has put him among 10 finalists for the prestigious Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2020.

The teacher from SK Runchang, Pahang, made the top 10 list from a selection of over 12,000 nominations and applications from more than 140 countries, the London-based Varkey Foundation said yesterday.

Isaiah, 33, who teaches English, said the honour represents Malaysian teachers’ capabilities and struggles, and highlights the Orang Asli community.

“It’s high time we spoke about indigenous people’s potential.

“With the right policies, resources, intervention, pedagogy and environment, they can achieve amazing things.

“Putting my children in the international spotlight is one of the best things this award can do for me, ” he said in an interview with The Star.

If he wins the US$1mil (RM4.3mil) prize given by the foundation in partnership with Unesco, Isaiah wants to build an educational hub that caters to Orang Asli education, social welfare and well-being.

The challenges the community faces in accessing education, he said, are interconnected.

“Matters such as malnutrition and poverty affect their performance in school as well.

“The hub will work with one Orang Asli community at a time and they will be central in the decision-making process. We need to listen to their voices.

“It will also require collaboration with non-governmental organisations, the Education Ministry and people from various expertise.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse for indigenous communities, said Isaiah, adding that digital literacy and online education does not work well for Orang Asli schoolchildren due to poverty and the lack of infrastructure.

“Efforts by schools have been commendable but there is a limit to what they can do.

“The hub will address all these problems, ” he added.

Every year, the Global Teacher Prize recognises an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession and underlines the important role teachers play in society.In a video message announcing Isaiah’s nomination, British actor and comedian Stephen Fry said the teacher provided laptops and tablets for his students through a national crowdfunding campaign.

“You dedicate yourself to inspiring your pupils to dream big and to connect to the outside world.

“This has resulted in your school’s average pass rate in English increasing from 30% to between 80% and 85%.

“Congratulations, Samuel, and thank you for everything you do, ” Fry said.

Unesco (education) assistant director-general Stefania Giannini hopes Isaiah’s story will inspire aspiring teachers and highlight the work of Malaysian teachers and educators throughout the world.

“The Global Teacher Prize helps put the teacher’s voice at the heart of our mission to champion inclusive learning opportunities for children and young people all over the world, especially the most marginalised and disadvantaged, during this sudden and unprecedented disruption to global education, ” Giannini said.

Varkey Foundation and the Global Teacher Prize founder Sunny Varkey said this year has seen teachers go above and beyond to keep young people learning, adding that teachers should be applauded for their creativity, compassion and resolve to fulfil every child’s right to a good education.

The award ceremony will be held virtually on Dec 3 and hosted by Fry from the Natural History Museum in London.

Samuel is a Fulbright scholar pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Policy and Leadership in State University of New York.

Last year, he was recognised as one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2019 – an annual award that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes – for his work with the Orang Asli children.

Another Malaysian teacher, Norhailmi Abdul Mutalib, was also among the 50 educators shortlisted for the 2020 prize.

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