Factors that influence the indigenous students’ success in secondary schools perspective of the indigenous teachers
Norwaliza Abdul Wahab1,Ramlee Mustapha21Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor2Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Tanjong Malim, Perak
High dropouts among Orang Asli students have become an issue as it was reported nearly 34% of those who had completed their primary schooling did not pursue their studies at the secondary level. This might be because they lack interests in academic subjects at schools. The Orang Asli was also identified as one of the most vulnerable groups in Malaysia, with a disproportionately high incidence of poverty and hardcore poverty.
While some believe that the macro-context is the most important factor of Orang Asli students’ education, other researchers point to teachers’ perspectives about Orang Asli students as significant to student’s success and becoming an important topic of study (Tatto, 1996). A substantial literature supports shows that teachers’ beliefs and attitudes strongly influence their perception and behaviors in the classroom (Byrnes, Kiger, & Manning, 1997; Cross, 1993; Kagan, 1992; Lewis, 1990; Villegas, 1992).
Research suggests that teachers’ perspectives on students significantly build their expectations about student learning, their treatment of students, and what the students ultimately learn (Pajares, 1993; Pang & Sablan, 1998; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Teachers with an affirming perspective are more likely to believe that students from non dominant groups are capable learners, even when those children enrol schools with ways of thinking and behaving that deviate from the dominant culture’s norms (Delpit, 1995).
On the other hand, teachers with limiting perspectives are more likely to make negative views about students’ potential. Dubious about those students’ ability to achieve, teachers are more likely to hold low academic expectations for them and ultimately to treat them in ways likely to stop their learning (Nieto, 2000; Payne, 1994). Educational researchers agree that teachers play a significant role in Orang Asli students’ academic achievement (Tang, 1997). However, little is known about how teachers define and interpret their teaching experiences.
This qualitative case study identified two Orang Asli teachers’ perspectives regarding the factors that potentially enhance the success of Orang Asli students in secondary schools. Data were collected using three instruments: individual semi-structured interview’s protocol, document analysis and classroom observations’ checklist. This qualitative research uses an interpretive case study approach, which is an appropriate methodology when a holistic, in-depth investigation is needed.
The findings show that the factors that influence the Orang Asli students’ success in secondary schools from the perspectives of the OA teachers include: (a) their schooling experiences and commitment to the indigenous culture, (b) their efforts to succeed despite the Orang Asli students’ underachievement, discrimination and marginalization within school and society, (c) their beliefs about the importance of indigenous language to academic success, (d) their expectations of the Orang Asli students (e) their relationship with Orang Asli students and families.
Throughout the interviews the two Orang Asli teachers, referred to their personal and schooling experiences as a main factor in their perspectives about teaching Orang Asli students. Those experiences were crucial factors that differentiate them from other teachers. Both experienced discrimination and rejection in school. They also realized that many other Orang Asli children suffered the same ordeal. When they became more critically aware of the marginalization of their culture in the school, they became very conscious of the differences in treatment they got between other students and Orang Asli students and felt they have to do something about it. They also developed a consciousness about their culture and that motivated them to become a teacher who were pledge to make a difference in Orang Asli students’ lives.
Much research suggests that sound home-school relationships are important to improving educational outcomes for all students (Hill & Taylor, 2004) particularly for Indigenous students (Hunter & Schwab, 2003). The 2 Indigenous teachers blamed racism and pointed out inequalities within school and society. They believed that Orang Asli students were marginalized and discriminate in many aspects of education and life. One of the factors that thwart of the Orang Asli students’ success was that they did not have adult Orang Asli as a role models in the school. The lack of role models was viewed by Orang Asli teachers as one aspect of another big problem. They hoped on the need for more Orang Asli teachers in schools especially if the school has many enrolment from the Indigenous origin.
The “lost” of indigenous language was felt by both teachers due to their schooling in mainstream school and in their teacher training college. Although both of Semai heritage, they experienced significant challenges with regard to their native language. Speaking Semai in her school was seen as “not proper by teachers and students and sometimes other students laugh at the way they [indigenous students] speak. The fear of being ‘different’ kept the Orang Asli students from identifying themselves ethnically which in turn intensified the stigma at school. Their opinion that language was a key to understanding the culture of students, their community, and, more important, their “ways of knowing” or learning (Bollin & Finkel, 1995; Cochran-Smith, 1995; Mercado, 2001). That is very important for teachers to understand because indigenous students are more likely to feel “at home’ when they believe their cultures are being valued and accepted at school.
In order to be an effective teacher it is necessary ‘to really see, to really know the students we must knowing what knowledge they bring to the classroom and how their cultural practices, values and beliefs shape them as learners and, as producers of knowledge (Castagn teach’ (Delpit, 1995, p. 183). Many teachers however, struggle to really know Indigenous students. In this study, the two Orang Asli teachers have had high expectations for their Orang Asli students. They believed the power of education can make vast difference in the lives of indigenous students. Their mission was to build on indigenous students’ strengths and to create a sense of will power that they actually can perform as good or better than the other students. They did not agree with those of her colleagues who blamed Orang Asli students and parents for their lack of interest in education. There is a fine line between wanting to adjust the syllabus to meet the student’s capability and actually challenging the students. Teachers’ expectations for indigenous students may affect the way they teach indigenous students.
Throughout the interview and observations, both OA teachers had shown some kinds of special relationships with their indigenous students through the usage of their own language. They fondly referred indigenous people as “ our, we and us’. The Orang Asli teachers worked hard continuously inside and outside the classroom as they built their relationship with Orang Asli students in the school. Although both teachers were different in numerous aspects of teaching and pedagogy, they shared one common goal - commitment, values, expectations for their students, and relationship with families and community. The indigenous parents were more at ease talking to them. When they have some issues to be brought up, they preferred them to be present at the meeting.
The study found that those teachers’ experiences and perspectives reflected the importance of promoting the strength and value of cultural diversity. Their teaching practices and pedagogical beliefs came about as a result of their schooling experience in Malay dominant schools – in which they experienced marginalization and discrimination. Although there is no single way of being indigenous, teachers who have grown up and completed their schooling as indigenous learners have a wealth of experience and knowledge about the pedagogies that are likely to be successful for indigenous students. They understand indigenous worldviews and have first-hand experience of the challenges facing indigenous students in the schooling systems. Thus, this research shows that indigenous teachers can potentially play significant roles as educators and as mentors to indigenous students.