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Education: Hope behind bars

Let's go to jail to get a scroll ...


Sekolah Integriti Kajang Superintendent Ranjit Singh congratulating Aminullah Adam (left) and Yatim Ali after they receive their scrolls at the 16th Open University Malaysia Convocation.

ANOTHER TRY: Given the opportunity to pursue Open University Malaysia courses in prison, inmates get a second chance at success after their release

SERVING time in prison does not deter 28-year-old Yatim Ali from pursuing higher education.

At the age of 14, Yatim was sentenced to Kajang Prison in Selangor after he was found guilty of manslaughter. But he believes that everyone deserves a second chance. “I believe that people can change. I have done something wrong in the past — and yes — it’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life, but I won’t let it take away my only chance to reclaim my life if I leave prison one day,” said Yatim.

“It had been awhile since school, so I had lost touch and had to start from zero. Slowly but gradually I re—learnt the basic skills — reading, writing and arithmetic — like a primary school pupil.”

He sat Penilaian Menengah Rendah in 2005, followed by Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (2006) and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (2008) in prison.

After his Form Six examinations, he remained determined to further his studies, encouraged by the inmates to make his time in prison meaningful. “Via a flexible entry system, I enrolled in a programme co-organised by Kajang Prison and Open University Malaysia (OUM). I studied the Bachelor’s in Business Administration course from 2009 till this year.”

Pursuing a degree course in a prison proved challenging. There was a lack of reading material and stationery. “We had to share books. The prison management helped to provide learning tools.”

The programme was conducted mostly via online forums and face-to-face tutorials were regularly held. “I made sure to concentrate and not lose focus. Thankfully, with support from the prison officers and my family, I gained a 2.44 CGPA in my final year and graduated at this year’s convocation. I have bitter-sweet memories of my studies,” added Yatim.

“I never even thought of continuing my studies in prison but the opportunity was there and I grabbed it.



Inmates sitting examinations at Sekolah Integriti Kajang in Kajang Prison. Pictures by Shiraz Yasmine Ali and Afendi Mohamed



Aminullah Adam (left) and Yatim Ali at the convocation.

“Studies are different in prison compared to outside. This programme should be continued so that other inmates can also get benefit from it.

“Don’t feel sorry for yourself for the things you have done but use the time in prison to make a better life for the future. There is no excuse to feel inferior because there are always solutions to problems.”

Yatim faced difficulty in funding his studies but OUM offered a derma siswa bersyarat to help him pay his tuition fees. Non-governmental organisations, Jabatan Mualaf and the Tithes Department also offered assistance.

He plans to pursue a master’s course if he is still in detention.

“I am thankful for these wonderful opportunities given to inmates. The university believes that education brings about change.

“My family has always been there for me. I don’t know how to repay them. My brother Yahya was at the convocation to celebrate my success with me. Sadly, other family members couldn’t make it due to financial constraints.”

Yahya, 25, said he is proud of his brother and hopes that he will be released soon so that the family can reunite.

“My grandmother, father and mother are all hoping for his return. Our 13-year-old sister doesn’t even know her older brother,” he said.

For inmate Aminullah Adam, 26, from Kuala Lumpur, the experience of holding a diploma scroll in his hands is indescribable because he never expected such an opportunity while in prison.

“I thought that my time would be wasted but that was not the case. It turned out that OUM and the Prison Department run programmes for inmates who wish to continue their studies.

“This year will be my sixth in prison and I have made full use of my time to gain knowledge while behind bars. I attended religious classes for a year to find inner strength and be close to Allah,” he said.

Aminullah was a polytechnic student before he was sent to prison in 2008. While behind bars, his desire to continue his studies grew and with encouragement from the inmates, he began his diploma studies in management in 2010.

“Self-motivation is important for students who are inmates. So I read a lot of religious books to be more self-reflective. I am thankful for my family’s support,” he added.

The lack of reading material did not dampen his spirits to gain knowledge. He accessed OUM’s online books. “I am more focused in prison compared to outside where I have to deal with many distractions. In prison, I only have to get used to the tight security and confined movement.”

Aminullah’s relative Abas said he is happy to share his nephew’s joy at his achievement. The latter said the programme should be continued as it has helped many inmates acquire knowledge. “With the time well-spent in prison, I hope that my nephew and his friends will look at the outside world differently,” he added.

Aminullah plans to get a master’s degree.

“I miss free time with friends and meals with my family but, in the meantime, my life is filled with meaningful activities in prison,” he added.

The names of the prisoners have been changed.

LESSONS IN PRISON

IN 2008, Open University Malaysia (OUM) and the Prisons Department started a programme for young offenders from Sekolah Integriti Kajang in Selangor.

The first intake of 10 students signed up for diploma and degree programmes in the fields of management and business administration.

OUM president and vice chancellor Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Anuwar Ali said its flexible learning concepts provide three-in-one learning modules such as self-learning, face-to-face learning and e-learning.

“Flexibility here means lessons can be taught face-to-face in prison according to the requirements permitted by the law and conforming to a strict prison environment and full control,” he said, adding that the programme fees are cheaper compared to other private universities and on par with some public tertiary institutions.

English is the medium of instruction. The inmates attend tutorials conducted by OUM tutors within the prison walls, supported by OUM’s online learning management platform (myVLE) and access to the Tan Sri Dr Abdullah Sanusi Digital Library. Through myVLE, the inmates manage their studies and submit assignments online.

Priority is given to lecturers who have experience teaching students with disabilities.

One of 11 schools run by the Prisons Department, Sekolah Integriti Kajang caters for more than 200 juvenile offenders, aged between 13 and 21, serving time at Kajang Prison. It follows the syllabus of a regular Malaysian school and offers studies until Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia level.

School is in session from 8am to 1.40pm daily, followed by extra-curricular activities until 5pm. Thirteen retired and tuition teachers are hired on a contractual basis by the Education Ministry to teach at Sekolah Integriti Kajang. They begin with rehabilitation classes, teaching students to read, write and count.

The entry requirements for entry into Sekolah Integriti Kajang depend on the number of years the offenders have to serve. If they are in prison for one year or less and are due to sit the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) or Sijil Peperiksaan Malaysia (SPM), then they can continue their education at Sekolah Integriti Kajang.

The needs of juvenile offenders are assessed to determine whether they are eligible for admission to the school.

For those who are above 20 years old and have yet to sit SPM, they can sit the examination in prison without enrolling in the school.

The screening includes an interview headed by the school superintendent, a supervisor and teachers. Inmates are evaluated according to whether they prefer academic or vocational studies.

In the academic stream, they are segmented into the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah class or pre-PMR, PMR, pre-SPM, SPM, pre-Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) or STPM. The university-level classes are held at another facility.

As an open and distance learning university with a flexible entry system, OUM enables even those with just a Form Three qualification (equivalent to Penilaian Tingkatan 3 certificate) to pursue its programmes, provided they have relevant experience and pass the admission tests.

Anuwar said: “Overall, Sekolah Integriti Kajang students’ performance is satisfactory. The school is headed by Superintendent Ranjit Singh. At OUM, the programme is regulated by our registrar.

“The university and the school hope this programme can attract more inmates to pursue higher education to improve their academic qualifications and provide greater opportunities for them to pursue employment when they get out of prison.

“OUM’s initiative to offer this programme shows the inmates that society is willing to help them. They also became aware that they need to keep up with the world outside.

“We assist inmates who have financial issues. The prison authorities ascertain inmates who are keen to study by interviewing them and their parents.

“Most inmates wanted to enrol in the university to improve themselves.”

In addition to well-recognised courses, OUM’s online blended pedagogical approach enables inmates to study while in prison.

Meanwhile, the Prisons Department conducts a human development programme. The inmates are counselled and attend religious classes. They are taught art and vocational skills.

Prisons Inmate Management Department director Jamaludin Ibrahim said: “Academics is one of the most important recovery programmes to rebuild human resources, especially young inmates. Some 600 inmates have attended Sekolah Integriti Kajang in prison.

“OUM’s ongoing commitment to provide higher learning opportunities to the inmates is very much appreciated. It is the only centre of higher education that is committed to offer these facilities.”

Twenty-one inmates are pursuing their studies under the university’s programme.

“Seventeen inmates at Kajang prison are studying business management, with four at the diploma level, 11 at degree and two at master’s.

“Four inmates at the Kota Kinabalu Prison have already enrolled and some 10 people are in the process of doing so. Efforts are being made to get funding,” he added.

Twenty-two inmates from Kajang prison will register for the 2014/2015 sessions.

“At the recent convocation, two prisoners received diploma qualifications and one, a degree. This is the first time inmates received their scrolls at a convocation. One inmate will pursue his master’s for the 2014/2015 sessions.” ZULITA MUSTAFA - NST Learning Curve  9 NOVEMBER 2014 @ 8:18 AM

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