Site logo

Education For All: Spotlight on 8 Visionary Educators in Alternative Learning Environments

When the word “teacher” resonates within your mind, is there a name that illuminates your thoughts? Teachers, the unsung heroes of our lives, have shaped us into who we are today. 

This Teachers Day 2023, Wiki Impact celebrates and honours 8 extraordinary educators who courageously step into atypical classrooms where children born with disabilities, refugees, undocumented/stateless and the vulnerable come to learn.  

In classrooms that defy conventional norms, these teachers embark on a profound journey of empathy, compassion, and resilience. They understand that education is not merely a tool for individual advancement, but a powerful force that can break down barriers, dismantle stereotypes, and reverse the cycle of poverty.

Their commitment to education transcends the boundaries of the classroom, igniting a ripple effect that reaches far beyond the individual student.

Educators For Children Who Are Differently-Abled:

According to Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (Department of Social Welfare, JKM), there are 579, 150 persons with disabilities (PwD) in Malaysia or approximately 1.8% of the Malaysian population[1]. However, the released data did not specify age groups or the amount of children with disabilities in the nation. 

Malaysia’s education system plays a vital role in providing primary and secondary education for persons with disabilities (PwDs), encompassing a wide range of learning and physical impairments. 

However, notable gaps persist within the system, particularly in the areas of suitable preschool education and vocational training for these children. Amidst these challenges, three exceptional teachers have emerged, dedicated to bridging these gaps and empowering those with disabilities.

Sharifah Salleh, Principal at IDEAS Autism Centre

When reflecting upon the impactful career of Sharifah Salleh, it is her unwavering dedication as a special needs teacher that leaves a lasting impression. As the principal at IDEAS Autism Centre since 2012, Sharifah has amassed a multitude of accomplishments. However, it is the small yet significant improvements exhibited by her students that truly touch her heart.

With extensive experience spanning over 25 years, Sharifah goes beyond her role as an educator. She takes on the invaluable task of moulding special needs teachers, instilling in them the importance of prioritising their students’ needs and embracing sincerity as the cornerstone of their approach.

Read Sharifah’s story here.

Sumitha Ramasamy, Head of Research and Development at the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB)

Sumitha Ramasamy embarked on her career journey fueled by a deep passion for the broadcasting industry. After graduating from university, she aspired to be a part of Malaysia’s vibrant broadcasting scene. However, fate had a different plan in store for her, guiding her towards a transformative role as an instructor at the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB). In this capacity, she wholeheartedly committed herself to empowering blind adults who had lost their vision and enlightening school leavers about their rights as valued members of the PwD community.

Over the years, Sumitha’s exceptional dedication and expertise earned her a well-deserved promotion to the position of principal. In 2018, she was given the opportunity to establish the research wing of the association. Leveraging her wealth of knowledge and experience within the PwD community, Sumitha now collaborates with academics throughout Malaysia to drive the creation of a more inclusive society.

Read Sumitha’s story here

Chen Siew Yee, Teacher at Persatuan Sindrom Down Malaysia (PSDM)

The unwavering love of a devoted mother knows no bounds. Chen Siew Yee exemplifies this love as she tirelessly strives to provide the best for her daughter and her students at Persatuan Sindrom Down Malaysia (PSDM). Renowned as the strict teacher at the centre, Sue Yi, who has a 12-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome, firmly believes in balancing moments of tenderness with the necessity for structured learning.

Throughout her three years at the centre, Siew Yee has been intimately involved in the growth of both her own daughter and her students at PSDM. In unison with countless parents of children with special needs, Sue Yi yearns for a more inclusive world where awareness of the challenges faced by individuals with special needs prevails.

Read Siew Yee’s story here.

Curious to delve deeper into the realm of education centres catering specifically to Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) or special needs children? Here are other credible centres: 

Educators For Refugee Children

In 2019, out of the 164,620 documented refugees in Malaysia, a staggering 51,000 were under the age of 18[2]. Sadly, these young minds are denied access to mainstream education within the country. However, amidst this adversity, a ray of hope emerges as refugee children find solace in learning centres and schools established by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), paving the way for a brighter future.

Here are three exceptional teachers who, in the realm of non-governmental learning centres, are making a profound difference in the lives of refugee children.

Ajunta Muniandy, Head Teacher at El Shaddai Centre

Source: Ajunta’s personal archive

Lifelong learning has always been the guiding principle for Ajunta Muniandy. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge, she seized every opportunity to enrol in various courses and diplomas, culminating in the remarkable achievement of earning her Masters at the age of 54. Now, she channels her love for learning towards fostering a similar passion among her students at the El Shaddai Centre.

Two years ago, when Ajunta stepped into the El Shaddai Centre, little did she know that she was embarking on a profound journey of discovery. As the Head Teacher, her role goes beyond imparting knowledge; she becomes a compassionate guide, intimately acquainted with the hardships her students have endured. Armed with this deep understanding, Ajunta is dedicated to restoring a semblance of childhood to these resilient children, who have faced traumatic beginnings in their lives.

Read Ajunta’s story here.

Mariam Philippose, Teacher at Dignity for Children Foundation

Two years ago, in a moment of contemplation, Mariam’s path led her to the Dignity for Children Foundation. As a former designer, she made a conscious choice to pursue what had always brought her joy – teaching. As a homeroom and English teacher at Dignity, Mariam passionately serves marginalised children, including refugees, providing them with holistic education and care.

Source: Maria’s personal archive

Navigating diverse classrooms with language barriers and addressing the broader challenges faced by refugee students, Mariam strives to create a supportive environment where students can thrive academically and personally.

Read Maria’s story here.

Discover a world of alternative learning centres dedicated to providing education to refugee children in Malaysia. These organisations are committed to bridging the education gap and providing refugee children with fair access to knowledge. Here are other credible centres: 

Educators For The Undocumented / Stateless Children

The issue of statelessness has gained significant attention in recent times, shedding light on the plight of individuals born and raised in Malaysia who are denied citizenship for various reasons. Tragically, without proper documentation to prove their existence, stateless children remain invisible within the country. This situation presents a tumultuous future for many of them, as the lack of access to education leaves them vulnerable to early or child labour and other social challenges.

Recognising the urgent need to address this issue, various organisations and educational initiatives have emerged to support stateless children in Malaysia. We shine the spotlight on three exceptional teachers who through their unwavering belief in the transformative power of education have created an inclusive learning environment where stateless children can thrive and develop their full potential.

Najwa, Trainee Teacher at Cahaya Society

Despite facing isolation and discrimination as a stateless individual in Sandakan, Sabah, Najwa’s passion for learning set her apart. While her peers pursued immediate income, Najwa, at just 12 years old, immersed herself in reading and writing. 

Source: Najwa’s personal archive

Today, at the age of 15, she is giving back to Cahaya Society, the very school that nurtured her by teaching basic skills to new students, like holding a pencil. Alongside other alumni from the society, Najwa is dedicated to reaching out to others and empowering them through education. With a strong determination, her aspiration is to confidently raise awareness about the plight faced by the stateless community.

Read Najwa’s story here.

Azwan Irwan, Teacher at Sekolah Alternatif Tawau

Source: Azwan’s personal archive

After tirelessly searching the streets of major cities in Sabah to find students for Borneo Komrad’s Sekolah Jalanan, Azwan Irwan, a passionate 28-year-old educator, is now confronted with the task of meeting the immense demand for enrollment at the Sekolah Alternatif Tawau. Originally created with the purpose of equipping stateless and undocumented children with fundamental literacy and numeracy skills, the school in Tawau has evolved into a thriving community hub.

Since 2019, Azwan and his fellow teachers have been embraced by the warm-hearted community of Kampung Hidayat, who welcome them as beloved members of their own families. This trust bestowed upon them serves as a driving force for Azwan, as he remains resolute in his commitment to altering the destiny of stateless and undocumented children through the transformative power of knowledge and education.

Read Azwan’s story here.

Jenepa Karun, Teacher at Pusat Bimbingan Alternatif Grace

Jenepa’s transformative journey began when she accepted the challenge to teach at the Pusat Bimbingan Alternatif Grace. Despite having aspirations for a successful career in IT management, she discovered her true calling while witnessing the plight of stateless and undocumented children. Jenepa realised the profound impact education could have on their lives, leading her to devote herself wholeheartedly to their well-being.

Source: Jenepa’s personal archive

Despite the challenges posed by poverty and limited support for the families, Jenepa is committed to making a difference, no matter how small. She and a team of other teachers at the centre adopt a proactive approach, visiting students and their families in remote areas to understand their unique challenges and provide tailored support. 

Read Jenepa’s story here.

Discover the incredible work being done by alternative learning centres for stateless and undocumented communities. Here are other organisations dedicated to providing education for these vulnerable children:

Explore our sources:

  1.  OKU Rights Matter. (n.d). Disability Data – Be Counted to Count. Link
  2. J.K. Kok. & et al. (2021). Refugee Children In Malaysia: Perceptions of Family and Coping Mechanisms. TQR. Link.

Stories You May Also Like:

BURSA TOP 20: Who’s The most charitable?