Site logo

Umar’s Story: A Testament To The Power Of Collective Effort To Reverse Learning Loss

School closures, lockdowns, and movement restrictions were all foreign to the nation until March 2020, when a global pandemic wreaked havoc on education.

Suddenly, students were confined to their homes, teachers had to learn how to be technically savvy, and siblings had to compete for access to limited digital devices for attending classes. These circumstances significantly hindered students’ ability to continue their education effectively.

Finally, after an extended period, schools reopened in late 2021, bringing relief to many parents. However, for Umar Firas, a student at SK Jelempok in Perlis, the prospect of returning to school was met with hesitation. 

As part of the remedial class or kelas pemulihan, Umar faced additional pressure. Having spent months adapting to online learning, the transition back to the physical classroom felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable for him, as if he was a fish out of water.

Tallying Losses

Cikgu Naqiah Mahadzir started the new academic year at the Pemulihan unit with her own worries. The pandemic had resulted in one of the most protracted education gaps –  learning loss. Students in Malaysia face one of the highest rates of learning loss across all developing Asian countries at 0.95 years equivalent to 11.4 months[1].

For primary school students such as Umar whose first step to education was a whirlwind, it meant that his ability to read and write was lower than his peers. 

In Perlis, 2,300 Level 1 students (beginners level of remedial classes) lacked proficiency in the three components of literacy; reading, writing and counting[2].

These students lack reading fluency, at times needing to spell out the words first. – Cikgu Naqiah[2]

Teachers also needed to adapt to the evolving education landscape.

Teachers know that in order to capture the attention of students, especially in the current generation, these young learners are more attracted to tablets.  – Cikgu Naqiah[2]

Cikgu Naqiah’s concerns resonated with other educators in Perlis and nationwide. Without the right intervention, students like Umar may eventually be disengaged leading to school absenteeism and even school dropout.

Timely Intervention

With a population of close to 270,000[3], Perlis is one of the states with the lowest average income and highest poverty incidences[4].

The low average income of the state directly impacts educational opportunities for Perlis students. Some may fall behind in their options and seek additional help to get up to speed with their learning, relying heavily on formal education.

To address affected students’ learning setbacks, the Literacy and Numeracy Rehabilitation Project programme emerged as an effective solution facilitated by a collaborative effort between Yayasan Hasanah, the Ministry of Finance, UniMAP, Wesser Solutions Sdn Bhd, and the State Education Department of Perlis. 

This particular programme, it is a special collaboration between Yayasan Hasanah and the Ministry of Finance. Its aim is to address learning loss, also known as learning recovery, among students in schools. – Dr Nur Anuar Abdul Muthalib, Head of Education at Yayasan Hasanah[2]

Leveraging technology-based teaching tools such as tablets and interactive TVs, the initiative sought to transform challenges posed by digital devices in teaching into opportunities for learning in the classroom. 

Innovative modules tailored by UniMAP further enrich the established Program Pemulihan Khas that has existed since the 1960s to assist students who struggle to master basic literacy skills. 

The initiative hired Graduate Mentors in an effort to close a long-standing educational gap in Perlis  As of 2021, the teacher to student ratio in primary schools is inadequate at 1:19 (the national ratio is 1:11)[4]. The Graduate Mentors added colour to the classroom along with Cikgu Naqiah to enhance student learning. 

Source: Utusan

Graduate Mentors play a crucial role in assisting remedial teachers in the remedial literacy project, ensuring that all the prepared modules, gamification tools, and technological devices can be effectively delivered to the remedial students.  – Prof Madya Ir Dr Umi Fazara Md Ali, Project Lead UniMAP WESSER[2]

Sustaining Progress In Perlis  

Cikgu Naqiah harboured a real concern of seeing empty chairs in her classroom. To her, each unoccupied seat represented a missed opportunity to nurture the future generation of Perlis. However, a ray of hope emerged in the form of interesting and engaging teaching modules from the Literacy and Numeracy Rehabilitation Project programme. 

With this programme, I was provided with interesting modules and was able to make my students excited to come to school. I would announce, “Come to school tomorrow. We can do fun activities again and play with tablets” and the kids will come to school every day. Cikgu Naqiah[2]

Statewide, remedial classrooms experienced transformative changes. A remarkable 80% of the 2,300 students across 74 schools participating in the programme showcased improvements. The progress spurred even more collaboration between educators in the state. 

When I asked and collaborated with other teachers from the remedial programme in Perlis, they were very excited and felt it was excellent. – Cikgu Naqiah[2]

Catching up on missed education following months of school closure requires time and effort. The Literacy and Numeracy Rehabilitation Project stands as a prime example of how proper support and intervention can yield remarkable results in the classroom.

Umar, who initially struggled with reading and writing, made significant progress in his literacy and numeracy skills within a year. Now, a year later, Umar is the pride of his school. Having advanced to Level 2, he even represented his school in the Pertandingan Kemahiran Literasi dan Numerasi Awal (PKLNA) Antara Sekolah Rendah Negeri Perlis in 2022.

In class, the fun reading game has words in it. To play, we have to spell. The goal was to learn reading! – Umar Firas, Tahap 2 remedial student[2]

Today, the remarkable improvements in Perlis’ education landscape serve as a testament to the unwavering dedication and collaborative efforts of educators and various agencies. Their collective commitment has made a significant and transformative difference in the lives of students like Umar, and the overall educational ecosystem. 

Yayasan Hasanah made a significant impact in 2022, providing support to 1,032 schools nationwide under its Education pillar. The foundation’s efforts extended to offering training opportunities to 157 school leaders and granting 121 scholarships, fellowships, and residences.

Explore the intersection of justice, philanthropy, and impact investing at The Hasanah Forum, or THF, the social impact conference organised by Yayasan Hasanah. Sign up for the free virtual conference at, held in conjunction with the Asia Venture Philanthropy (AVPN) Conference, an international event happening in Malaysia co-hosted by Hasanah 20-22 June 2023.


  1. Bait Al Amanah. (2021). Malaysian School Closures cost RM80 billion a year. Link 
  2. Yayasan Hasanah. (2023). The Hasanah Report 2022: Addressing Post-pandemic Learning Loss. Link
  3. Wiki Impact. (2021). Spotlight on Poverty: Perlis. Link 
  4. N.Suhaidi. (2022). East Malaysian states, Kedah, Perlis still have higher poverty level. The Malaysian Reserve. Link

Stories You May Also Like:

BURSA TOP 20: Who’s The most charitable?