Inclusive edu a measure of success

THE recent call for a review of our education policy on refugee children by Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir (“Don’t deny refugees education”, The Star, Dec 12, 2022) is timely and forward-looking, as we embark on a new chapter in our country’s political history.

This call in regard to access to education must not just involve refugee children, but also include the undocumented, stateless and asylum seekers whose right to access education has been hampered by the existing policy.

In 2002/2003, Malaysia’s Education Act 1996/2003 was amended to the effect that children without documentation, children who are stateless, and children of migrant workers holding the unskilled category of the work pass are not allowed to register in national schools, placing them in a very precarious situation.

In response, local communities, non-governmental organisations, and faith-based groups created a platform called alternative learning centres (ALCs) to provide these children with basic reading, writing and mathematics, including living skills such as sewing, cooking and handicraft making.

All this while, we think of ALCs as a type of informal schooling – a viable stopgap measure against lack of access to primary education but this should not be the case.

ALCs are not a substitute for formal schools. There are many fundamental problems that ALCs face: lack of trained teachers, lack of building infrastructure, sports and cultural facilities, and lack of funding and curriculum monitoring.

Our learning policy towards children without documentation and nationality must be urgently reviewed so that all children can be accorded the same right to access primary education.

Why put a division between those with legal identity and those without, especially when exercising the fundamental right to education? Once children do not have the academic credentials to enter the labour market, their survival from hunger is a concer. How do we enshrine the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) theme “No one should be left behind” in our national policy, especially in education?

Access to primary education remains a critical approach for survival. Instead of promoting ALCs as a substitute, children, regardless of citizenship (or those without), must be integrated into our national school system.

Education is an equaliser. It mitigates vulnerability and precarity in all aspects of the child’s life.

Children are the future economic and political actors of the country, and providing them with a proper platform to acquire knowledge and skills is primarily the responsibility of the government.

The recent installation of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government should usher in a new perspective on children’s future, regardless of race, nationality, immigration status, or gender.

Malaysia has all it takes to push the UN agenda of an inclusive education free from layers of ill-conceived policy approaches. Indeed, one index of a successful nation is reflected in the way we treat the vulnerable and the underprivileged.


Research fellow

Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies

Universiti Malaya

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