Community schools answer to the pandemic

One year on from the on-set of the COVID-19  pandemic, educators are still struggling with how best to keep students in schools, engaged and  connected.  

Local NGO, Dignity for Children Foundation (Dignity), with the support of UNHCR, the UN  Refugee Agency’ have implemented a programme called “The Community Classroom” to bring  education to the grassroots particularly the refugee communities in Malaysia. 

Community Classroom works on the concept of empowering community educators to teach children in the community.  

Explained Petrina Shee, Co-founder and CEO of Dignity: “Dignity operates education  programme in Sentul for children and youths aged between 2 to 18 years old based on the  Montessori philosophy. We have developed in-house over 200 work books focusing on  numeracy and literacy.  

For the Community Classroom programme, we used these work books to train in-community  educators who in turn will teach the children in their respective communities. 

The current workbooks are divided into approximately 100 English workbooks and 100  Mathematics workbooks for children between the ages of four to eight. Workbooks for the nine  to twelve years old group are being developed.”

Project coordinator Fadlin Linsai of Dignity hold weekly training with the community educators  online. He would go through the weekly workbooks to make sure that the educators are  sufficiently equipped before they start a new week. All relevant links and the workbooks are  uploaded via Google Classroom for ease of access and learning.  

“Not all the educators are trained as teachers but they are nonetheless very qualified. They  hold professional degrees but could not do what they were trained for because they are  refugees. With the Community Classroom, they are able to give back to their communities and,  at the same time, acquire a skill that will help them make a fresh start and earn a living either  locally or when they get settled in a new country,” said Fadlin

The Community Classroom programme was implemented in March 2020. Currently the  programme has 10 teachers reaching out to over 300 students. The majority of the teachers are  women. 

As an indication of commitment, each student is required to pay RM50 per month to attend  classes. The students are also assessed after the completion of each phase before they can  progress further. If need to, some would have to stay at a certain phase slightly longer even as  their teacher revises the syllabus with them again. 

The minimum number of students per class is 12 and the maximum 25 – depending on the  “classroom” size and in accordance to COVID-19 SOPs. Classes with more than 25 students  are usually split into two sessions – morning and afternoon. 

Most of the classes are held in homes or community halls around the Klang Valley — Ampang,  Batu Caves, Cheras and Sentul. 

Added Fadlin: “We have trained another 180 teachers who are able to run community education  centres in Terengganu, Kedah, Pahang, Penang, Johor and Melaka that is benefiting over 600  students. We are also developing more workbooks.”

UNCHR funds the teachers’ training and wages, the development of the weekly workbooks and  equipment.  

Apart from numeracy and literacy workbooks, Dignity has also started development of  workbooks based on National Geographic magazines. This is to encourage students to be more  passionate about the environment and nature as part of a holistic approach to education. These  NATGEO workbooks have yet to be published pending copyright approvals. 

Fadlin revealed that he hopes to extend the Community Classroom project to his home state of  Sabah. “Coming from Sabah I know the challenges faced by educators particularly in the  interiors. I shared the programme with my hometown in Pitas, Sabah, but I hope to be able to  extend that to other areas so that they too can benefit from the programme.” 

Looking back, there are positives to the whole COVID-19 pandemic. As the saying goes,  necessity is the mother of invention and truly the Community Classroom is one that will cascade  through generations. 


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