Mathematics teacher G. Nadarajah used to have a headache handling the discipline of the students in the school, especially with absenteeism and truancy with many of the girls not interested to be in school or forced to stay home to care for younger siblings or older family members.
“Attendance as always been a problem with these girls especially those who come from middle and low-income families. When they miss school too much, they lag behind compared to other students and this often leads to the inability to cope and later, frustration,” he said.
When the Maharani programme was introduced at SRJK(T) Mahathma Gandhi Kalasalai in Sungai Siput, Perak, Nadarajah was impressed to see the interest in the students.
“We see a lot of changes in the students after they start going to the programme.
They come to school everyday, the number of absenteeism and truancy dropped. “But most importantly, we see the changes in the students. Shy, introvert and quiet girls are now the first ones to raise their hands whenever the class teacher asks for something, they participate in class, they ask questions.
Some even volunteer to become the master of ceremonies and go up on stage to recite poems or speak. The changes are tremendous,” he said.
He said the girls have also displayed their creative sides during the programme through traditional dance, baking and jewellery making activities.
“I was surprised to see how good they are. The girls are happier at school and home and they display leadership qualities which we never saw before,” he added.
But Nadarajah has another headache now.
“The boys in the school are now always asking their teachers why is this programme only open to the girls. They have seen how it has changed the lives of their female classmates and now they want the same thing too. I don’t know what to answer them,” he said, shaking his head.
The Maharani programme, initiated in Malaysia by RYTHM Foundation in 2010, has helped over 7,500 girls from poor and marginalised communities. It provides the girls, aged 13 to 16, with the skills and knowledge to enable them to achieve their full potential.
Through the Maharani programme, girls learn about gender, sexual and reproductive health; ethnicity; culture, and the importance of physical and spiritual wellness. This gives them the tools to develop into confident, responsible and civic-minded women and members of society. The programme involves a camp conducted over three phases and a Learning Lab where a strong foundation is built for the girls to embrace their future in more positive ways.
RYTHM Foundation hopes to introduce the Maharani Programme in Government schools as part of the curriculum and encourage more partnerships from the corporate sector.