Born and raised in Kuantan, Samuel Isaiah developed a strong interest in art and language before setting his sight towards academia. Attending the Teachers Training Institute in Penang Island taught and exposed him to all the theories for the ways to teach but did not fuel his passion. Instead, he found his passion for teaching upon immersing himself with the Orang Asli culture and community, where he built and grew a trusting relationship with the students, parents and the community. In light of his outstanding work, Samuel was a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020.
Tell us about your experience working with the Orang Asli and surrounding communities.
Despite the challenges of infrastructure and poverty, the biggest thing that these children face is the negativity of stigma and perception. The stigma stems from the fact that they’re Orang Asli, and they don’t learn well and that they can’t do much even if you put in the effort. It was implied to me very early on that the children were not worth my effort and time. I was dumbfounded and angry for the kids that I had developed a relationship with. So challenging these negative perceptions was my aim.
Hence I set out to make education something that they could relate to, and the entire process has been very meaningful to both parties. The multiple projects, innovations and interventions we went through paid off, and these children started to take more of a liking to education, which brought about a change in their behaviour and perception.
What are your thoughts on the importance of education?
For the indigenous communities in Malaysia, they don’t see the relevance of what they’re learning in school what they’re learning in school which can be applied in their daily lives. That whole concept of actually sitting at a desk, looking at a whiteboard and writing on a piece of paper or a book doesn’t mean anything to them. That is why the methods that I’ve done, the projects based learning and the 21st-century learning have gotten them more involved in learning. The fundamentals to this type of education is to communicate, collaborate, be critical and have creative thinking. These elements are what I try to implement in my daily lessons.