Good Ideas into a Landfill of Promises : The “Natural Order” of Orang Asli Education?

“…policymakers, schools, and systems make achieving compromise an aim, whilst preferring to work in silos.”

Two questions that come to my mind as I reflect on what have been done for Orang Asli education in Malaysia are whether the interventions were; a response to a current pressing problem, or a proactively designed plan with the intention to prevent problems. Unfortunately, there seem to be no clear distinctions between the two and this has added to the complexity of the problems of the Orang Asli community.

Not just a matter of preference, these two perspectives are crucial to what is expected of the system. Not having a clear aim creates a never-ending tension between supporters and opponents of interventions and policies.

Proponents vs. Opponents

Some detractors frame all issues urgently and suggest reactive measures right away. These opponents frame every plan or policy implemented negatively, expect policies to be implemented fast and scaled widely, thus underestimating development, context, and subject matter mastery.

Proponents are also guilty of selective findings and give themselves a pat on the back though there is much to be done in reality. They plead for time, and how it is necessary to cater interventions to the variation of the indigenous conditions and context. However, they often succumb to pressure and end up implementing policies by making questionable choices, with the intention of pleasing everyone.

What I have discovered is unrealistic and expectations on both ends contribute to disappointment. When opponents and proponents do not have similar anticipations on what should be done, how it should be done, and why it should be done, disappointment from both parties seems inevitable.

In the case of Orang Asli education in Malaysia, nobody seems to be satisfied. Unfortunately, this relegates intentions that seem to be good ideas into a landfill of promises that were too good to be true.

Why? There is a reluctance to collaborate, to share expertise and data, to involve and engage the community as the most important stakeholder, and put differences aside. Therefore, policymakers, schools, and systems make achieving compromise an aim, whilst preferring to work in silos.

However, in achieving compromise, there seems to be a trade-off between objectivity, relevance, community, culture, and improvement. Balancing these aspects is perhaps easier said than done, but not achieving this balance in the case of Orang Asli education policies comes with a hefty price.

The more complex the problem the more important it is to follow an organic process to bridge polarities.

This challenges the widely understood notion that the more complex the problem is, the more important it is to follow an orderly flow.

Orang Asli Education interventions must come from problem understanding, testing prototypes, and involving the community, all which emphasizes an organic process. Through this, polarities can be bridged without trade-offs especially in structural explicit changes such as policies, practices, and resources.

When all stakeholders come together for the purpose of improving Orang Asli education, the first thing that must be done is to frame and understand the problem of practice together. This is crucial because real issues are often changing, evolving, and growing.

The nature of these issues signify the importance of adapting and testing prototypes. This process is a depiction of learning about and defining the problem of practice, which will then contribute in the creation of possible solutions and considering how they will work.

Indulging in this route is actually a sign of an intelligent and creative learning practice that reflects a deeper cognitive process. Contrary to the common practice of portraying an all knowing facade and expecting swift results.

Reconsideration of Our Educational Norm

This constant struggle of decision-makers, implementers, opponents, and proponents leads me to suggest a reconsideration of our most prized educational norm; the autonomy of practice not just in the school and classroom, but most importantly in the community.

This is because, whether an intervention or policy is in response to a current pressing problem or designed to prevent a problem, I think it is the course of action of learning fast in order to implement well, with the Orang Asli community central to the decision making is what that defines the impact.

Featured image by Aiman Amerul Muner, Malaysiakini.

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