Here’s the story of Iskul 1.0:
Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal (Iskul) has operated in Omadal since August 2015. It is a community-led initiative that uses a participatory approach. Iskul leverages on the Omadal school children and teens (Little Teacher/Mastal Arikik/MA) from the B40 Malaysian families. They teach their stateless neighbours basic literacy lessons on weekends. The main aim is Bahasa Malaysia (BM) language. The MAs receive RM50 per month as an incentive to teach 8 classes. Candidates were interviewed before becoming an MA.

A local woman entrepreneur became our informal Headmistress to organise classes. She also prepares RM1 meals for up to 30 stateless students per class. Iskul became a win-win initiative for both the stateless and the Malaysian communities in Omadal in three ways:

(1) the stateless children get to learn to read and write in Bahasa Malaysia. They also get 2 meals a week to supplement their malnourished diet.
(2) the B40 Malaysian children and teens get to learn how to teach and speak in front of a group. This boosts their confidence besides getting an extra allowance.
(3) local women on the island earn extra income by preparing weekly meals for our students.

More importantly, we aspire for improved relationships between the children of both communities though Iskul. Our vision is to build young leaders among the stateless and local communities through holistic education. We aim to foster inclusivity among communities with and without nationality. We want to make their voices heard. In essence, we become a bridge; a bridge that connects the stateless and underprivileged community with the resources and networks we have.

We had made great strides in our first four years for a public-funded program without a full time and paid project manager until 2020. From the corridors of our MA’s houses and our Headmistress’s doorway and kitchen [25], our classes are now held in our own Pondok Iskul. Thanks to the funding from Mah Sing Foundation, our only grant donor in 2018. From 2015 to 2018, our 10 MAs taught approximately 50 students BM, simple arithmetic, and art classes. In 2020, 18 of them have graduated.

An evaluation from 2015-2018 shows us that the children are weaker in written BM and Mathematics. At least 10 of them can converse in Bahasa Malaysia in 2020. BM proficiency is paramount in integrating them into Malaysian society at large. This is also crucial for them to clarify their background with the authorities, if caught, to avoid deportation.

As part of our vision to build young leaders from both communities, we continue to strengthen our MAs’ competency, by:
(1) providing teaching camps to improve their teaching quality,
(2) training two former MAs (Aida and Khairul) to the role of the Field Coordinator (FC) at different times.

With increased skills and knowledge, we hope they will in turn teach our students better, and grow them to be leaders.

We conduct annual assessment visits to engage all stakeholders to refine our operations. We ran focus group discussions with our students, individual interviews with MAs, home visits to interview parents, and written tests for the students. This enabled us to triangulate Iskul’s progress, challenges and gaps. It also provides insights into the needs of our students and their parents. We keep the local Omadal communities in charge of the operation. In 2019, our FC-trainee and headmistress requested a full-time teacher to manage Iskul. This leads us to engage Cikgu Jefry from Sekolah Alternative Semporna in February 2020. He is to teach and build the capacities of our students, MAs and FC-trainee.

Here’s the story of Iskul 2.0:

Iskul was lucky to have finally had a full time teacher in the beginning of 2020 when we were just about to revamp our system. Instead of local Malaysian school going children, we were able to take in 3 of our graduate students (Delah, Enidah, Bilkuin) as Mastal Arikik (little teacher) or as assistant teachers. The main reason was because we couldn’t find any other Malaysian children who were interested in teaching anymore. At the same time, our graduates stepped out of their comfort zone and returned to help Iskul to teach. Our pioneer Mastal Arikik, Khairul became our FC-in-training.

We increased the classes from 2 days a week to 5 days a week. We provide our students with a simple brunch after classes. Classes of 30 children are now held from Saturday to Wednesday from 7am to 11am. We also started the arts and cultural class every Wednesday. The art and culture initiative aimed to develop the socio-cultural identity of the local community. Various activities such as drawing, colouring, watching movies, dancing, acting and singing were taught in these classes. This is crucial in building the children’s self-esteem and confidence, stimulating imaginations and developing creativity. The students now perform monthly in Iskul’s Pentas Bulan Paluwak.

When Covid-19 and MCO hit, Iskul couldn’t operate, but we found silver linings in the pandemic. The year 2020 and 2021 has enabled us to expand our basic literacy core to Covid-19 relief and started community healthcare. The latter includes four parts. First, nutritious meals and hygiene programmes for our students. Second, a maternity and children’s health programme. Third, the community water access project. Finally, a “mini clinic” that provides basic medical emergency relief to the community. It was made possible with grants from Yayasan Hasanah and collaboration with various partners and the Malaysian public. The above will be further elaborated in the “Other Initiatives” section.

In 2022, we increased the number of our students to 33 and provided them two meals instead of one under a followup Yayasan Hasanah Special Grant 2.0. We also increased our class hours from 8am to 12pm. Our syllabus is made up of three levels. Level one is the basics of holding a pencil, recognising alphabets, numbers, and shapes, and using basic words in conversations. The second level is to be able to recognise vowels, consonants, and syllables, be able to identify shapes and values up to a thousand and lastly solve simple addition and subtraction problems. The third level involves the basic skills of essay writing, grammar, and vocabulary, to be able to communicate well and comprehend topics such as fractions, time and money.

We added two new modules: Life Science and Marine Stewardship Module. Students learn about the science behind their everyday life such as high tide, low tide, rain etc.

In the Marine Stewardship Module, we hope that our students will learn about marine life and foster a sense of responsibility towards the environment which helps to build awareness and cultivate proper trash disposal among them. For the marine classes, students will snorkel, explore, research and map their sea in Omadal. Their learning will be based on the integration of local traditional knowledge from their parents and science discovery through collaborative research with Iskul teachers and a marine expert. This module is funded by the UNDP Small Grants Project’s ICCA.

Our students also become Health Ambassadors to their families, bringing basic hygiene home. They teach their family members the proper ways to brush their teeth and wash their hands. They are also involved in arts production in Iskul’s health campaign. Most recently, our students presented a wayang kulit entitled “Omadal fights Corona”. It is about the danger of Covid-19 and how we can protect ourselves from it. It was performed for the community during Iskul’s “Pentas Paluwak” (Iskul’s monthly Full Moon Stage). They also performed it during Sekolah Alternative’s graduation ceremony in Semporna. These exposure definitely boost their self-confidence.

Students also learn to grow hydroponics plants in a collaboration with University Putra Malaysia. Our Iskul’s garden is known as “Kebun Atas Air”.

Furthermore, we are training 10 stateless and Malaysian youth from Omadal in media advocacy. They learn to create video content so they can tell their stories and predicament to the world and earn some extra income. Finally, we are currently conducting a pilot waste management project for 33 families in Omadal. We also minimise marine pollution via the community’s lived experience through our pilot waste management project for 33 households

In addition, our 10 advanced students and our MAs are learning English via a volunteer teacher via Zoom every week.

We recently secured data connectivity, phones and laptops sponsorship from DiGi. We will kickstart our digital literacy for our Level 2 and Level 3 students once we receive the equipment in the next few weeks.

In 2023, we will start our human rights module for our students. It is in collaboration with the Institute of Statelessness (ISI). Our teachers will teach about statelessness and human rights to Iskul’s students using the BM version of ISI’s story book “The Girl Who Lost Her Country”