Malaysian boy is only student enrolled in rural school

Oon Sheng Juin learning to write on his first day as his teacher Tan Boon Lin looks on.
Oon Sheng Juin learning to write on his first day as his teacher Tan Boon Lin looks on. PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

TAIPING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It's the first day of school in Malaysia but unlike most children, Oon Sheng Juin cuts a solitary figure at his school on Pasir Hitam island at Trong in the state of Perak.

He is the only student enrolled at SJK (C) Aik Hua - the consequence of urban migration.

Despite being alone, the Year One student seemed unfazed and was happily learning from his teacher on the first day of school. However, the presence of a group of journalists seemed to have surprised the boy, who then stayed quiet and tried to shy away from the crowd.

When asked whether he was all right studying alone, Sheng Juin shyly nodded his head.

His teacher Tan Boon Lin, 35, said the boy seemed quite a fast learner.

"He only attended kindergarten in Penang for several months before coming here.

"He can't write well but is picking it up," Mr Tan said.

"He is still adapting to the new environment and keeps to himself and hasn't fully opened up," he said.

Year One is equivalent to Primary 1 in Singapore schools.

It is learnt that Sheng Juin and his younger sister had just moved to his grandmother's place in Pasir Hitam, a small fishing village with about 50 villagers.

It is about 30km from Taiping and a 45-minute boat ride from Trong.

Headmistress Hee Kam Foong, 51, said Sheng Juin was registered at the school last month.

"We thought the school would be closed because of the lack of pupils.

"Sheng Juin then came in,'' she said.

"We have also obtained a letter from the district Education Department to continue the classes," she added.

"The villagers also hoped the school could remain open.

"One of them said he will register with the school once his child is old enough," she said.

Ms Hee said to keep the school open, a philanthropist had pledged to sponsor three pupils to study there.

"The Tan Sri said he would also sponsor RM500 (S$165) monthly to anyone who sends their children here," she said.

There were two Year Six pupils at the school last year, according to the headmistress.

"There used to be five pupils in 2013 but the numbers continued to decrease," she said.

Persatuan Lembaga Sekolah-Sekolah Cina Perak chairman Datuk Lee Kon Yin, who was present at the school, said the school's developer planned to relocate it.

"In the meantime, the pupil will continue to study here," he said.

There are currently 185 Chinese schools in Perak, according to Mr Lee.

"About 10 of these schools are facing a shortage of pupils and could be closed down. Some of these schools have fewer than 10 pupils," he said.

"These schools are located in villages, estates and rural areas where people have moved out to cities."