Education way out for refugees, stateless children

PETALING JAYA: Allowing refugees and stateless children access to formal education that follows the national curriculum are vital for their future, said Rohingya activist and president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation in Malaysia, Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani.

He said opportunities for such children to get a basic education would allow them to contribute to the host country and its people as well as to the refugee community.

“One of the reasons Rohingya refugees are not able to relocate to a third country such as Canada or Australia is because we have little to no formal education. If Malaysia could provide basic education that is part of the national curriculum, the resettlement process would become easier and more Rohingya could start new lives in those countries.”

Zafar said the United Nations, through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, NGOs and local communities have been running informal facilities to educate refugees and stateless children. However, he said such measures were temporary and the curriculum involved was static.

“Children of all ages learn the same things. Ten-year-olds and 15-year-olds are using the same workbooks. As time goes by, the children’s will to learn declines as they get bored and refuse to study because all they see is a bleak future.

“Government intervention needs to happen so the children can have a more structured curriculum that teaches them according to their age and level of understanding.”

Salina Lim Abdullah, who has been involved in teaching English to Afghan, Syrian, Palestinian and Rohingya refugees since 2017, lauded the recent call by the Yang di-Pertuan Besar Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir for basic education to be granted to refugees and stateless children.

“The opportunity for refugees to be relocated to the US or Canada has become very slim after the Covid-19 pandemic. In the meantime, (the government) has to educate them.

“They are forced to flee to Malaysia from their home countries, and they need basic things like education and skills to earn a living and survive.”

Salina said education is often narrowed down to academics, but living skills should also be among the basics that the government could include in the curriculum.

“The children’s language skills are very poor as they have not been introduced to Bahasa Melayu or English at a young age, so I taught them English by reading them story books. Apart from that, I also taught them religious studies in English to polish their language proficiency.”

She said allowing refugees and stateless children access to basic education was a noble cause, but stressed the importance of the curriculum being structured and providing opportunities for local teachers as volunteers.

In his royal address for Human Rights Day on Dec 12, Tuanku Muhriz called for a review of the government’s policies that deny formal education to refugee and stateless children.

Although Malaysia has been introducing programmes such as Sekolah Bimbingan Jalinan Kasih (under the Compulsory Education Policy in March 2009) for children aged five to 17 who do not have legal documents, Tuanku Muhriz said: “More initiatives need to be taken to ensure no children are left behind in terms of getting a quality education.”

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