About one of every three school going child from a low income family in Malaysia did not have the resources for online learning during the many lockdowns the nation endured over the past two years.
Most often, these pupils ran out of internet data after their parents either lost their jobs or had to take steep pay cuts when businesses were also closed.
This meant that teachers had to dig into their own pockets to come up with innovative ways to make sure their pupils don’t fall behind in their lessons, and sometimes these methods involved personal risk.
Viewers will get a first-hand view of these hardships as told through the eyes of teachers and staff of a Selangor secondary school in the film “This is My School”, that will premiere at the 2022 edition of the FreedomFilmFest in September.
FreedomFilmFest Film Grant
Every year the festival calls for film proposal entries from interested filmmakers and activists who have a story to tell. The two selected proposals will win a film grant of RM15,000 each to produce the film.
The selection was based on this year’s theme Pandemik Dua Darjat, highlighting how the Covid-19 has affected society beyond just being a health public crisis.
The virus exposed the ‘pandemic of inequality’ that has long-afflicted millions at the bottom rungs of Malaysian society.
Amirul Ramthan dan Rahmah Pauzi are this year’s grant winners.
The film is directed by Rahmah Pauzi, who is a former student of SMK Perimbun and a daughter of Rusmiyana Kamari, one of its senior mathematics teachers. Rahmah was one of two winners of FFN’s film grant for 2022.
“This is My School”, is also meant to give viewers a deep look at the under-investment and neglect faced by public schools nationwide, especially those which serve the working class and poor families.
Rahmah’s pitch was chosen by Freedom Film Network’s panel of three judges because of how it fit the festival’s theme of “Pandemic Dua Darjat” (Pandemic of Inequality). The COVID-19 public health crisis exposed major structural flaws in Malaysian society and one of those is the country’s crumbling public school system.
“I saw first-hand how my mother struggled to keep her students engaged online and how they would drop out of class because they ran out of internet data. I want to show how teachers sacrificed for their schools and students,” Rahmah told the panel of judges during her grant pitch.
“What my mother and her colleagues experienced over the past two years reflects Malaysia’s digital divide that has left hundreds of thousands of school children behind”.
The film traces Rahmah’s mother’s daily efforts to ensure that her pupils continued to do their lessons and homework with no internet connection and teacher supervision. It also features testimonials from teacher groups that paint a bigger picture of the problems with the public school system and what needs to be done to fix it.
One of the judges, Rozana Isa, chose this film proposal first out of the four other grant pitches because of how critical and intractable the issue is.
Another judge, Eva Zahar, also chose “This is My School” due to the strength of the central characters. Besides math teacher Rusmiyana, the film also features the reflections of Rahmah herself as she revisits her old school which is crumbling due to a lack of government funds.
“Public school teachers are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. They deserve to be acknowledged just like doctors and nurses,” said Amir Shahlan, another judge who is also Dean of Cinematics Arts of the Multimedia University (MMU).
“This is My School” will premiere at FreedomFilmFest 2022 along with three other films that received the film grant. They are “Greyscale”, “Can’t Run, Can’t Hide” and “Fafa: Perjuangan yang tak Didendang”.