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Informal education prepares Rohingya children for resettlement

Rohingya children attending a language class at a learning centre in Kuala Lumpur. — TRP file pic by Mokhsin Zamani

January 2, 2016

NUR Kaidah Nur Alam’s ambition is to open a bakery and when asked why, the 13-year-old replied in all innocence: “Because I love to eat chocolate cake.”

Nur Kaidah, whose parents are Rohingya refugees — who had fled Myanmar with their family to escape the persecution — said she has been dreaming of having her own bakery ever since she tasted a piece of chocolate cake given to her by a friend.

“I know I have to do well in school first, then learn to make cakes and open a shop. Then, I can eat all the cake I want and earn some money for my family,” said the bright-eyed teen, who was born in Malaysia.

Nur Kaidah is a student at the Muslim Aid Knowledge Centre (PIMA), a school specially set up for Rohingya children in Kampung Ampang Tambahan in Ampang, Selangor, and run by the Muslim Aid Malaysia Humanitarian Foundation.

Nur Kaidah, who has 9 other siblings aged between 3 and 24, used to live in Terengganu before her family moved to Kuala Lumpur in search of a better life and education for the children.

Long Journey

Her classmate Amin Sharif Hasan Sharif, 12, is a big fan of Malaysian astronaut Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor and intends to follow in his footsteps.

“I will study hard so that I too can become a national astronaut,” said the youngster, who considers himself a Malaysian.

Amin Sharif, who has been a student at PIMA for the past two years, is aware that his family may eventually be placed in a third country but said if he had his way, he would prefer to remain here.

Relating how he ended up in Malaysia, the boy said 4 years ago, his mother took him and his two younger siblings on an arduous long journey across Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Thailand to Malaysia so that they could join his father, who had been working in this country for some years.

Amin Sharif said his father was helping a relative with his electrical wiring business while his mother was jobless.

Importance of Education

An estimated 33,710 refugee children aged below 18 are currently registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

Considering that education is the key to equipping these children with the knowledge and skills they would need to free themselves from the clutches of poverty, do they have access to educational opportunities in Malaysia?

They don’t have access to formal education but they can still get a decent informal education at special “schools” set up for them by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), religious organisations and other interested parties.

According to UNHCR spokesperson Yante Ismail, there are 126 community learning centres for refugee children, including 31 specifically for young Rohingyas.

She said 29% of refugee children in Malaysia have access to these learning centres, which provide pre-school, primary and secondary education.

Eleven of the learning centres are run by NGOs while the rest are operated by religious and other groups.

Besides extending financial grants to the community learning centres, UNHCR also helps to train volunteers and teachers and foot the children’s transportation and food bills, as well as provide stationery and teaching aids.

Yante said the students, aged between four and 17, were taught four main subjects, namely English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mathematics and Science.

However, as she pointed out, there was limited scope for them to learn and accomplish more due to the shortage of resources, including qualified teachers.

The classes are conducted at rented premises in flats or shop houses, which are usually overcrowded and lack basic learning facilities.

Limited Opportunities

Despite the limited resources, the children still get a chance to learn to read, write and count at the various learning centres, said Yante.

To enable them to function normally in any society they are thrust into, they are also taught social skills and to embrace values like cooperation, tolerance and acceptance.

“However, opportunities for the refugee children to further their education remain challenging. UNHCR and the various NGOs are always seeking opportunities for youths to learn vocational skills to enable them to face a brighter future,” said Yante.

She said the UNHCR has signed memoranda of understanding with the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and International University Malaya-Wales to enable 42 refugee youths to take up undergraduate programmes at the institutions concerned.

Nuruljannah Oyong, 24, one of the teachers attached to Muslim Aid’s PIMA, meanwhile, said all her students were diligent, hardworking and disciplined.

The Universiti Malaysia Sabah graduate said the Rohingya kids she taught were well aware of the importance of education and their parents too took a keen interest in their progress.

She said PIMA conducted two classes from 8am to noon and another two classes from noon to 3pm. The children, aged between six and 13, are taught Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mathematics, Science, Pengajian Tempatan and other subjects relevant to the Malaysian education syllabus.

“We try to keep them in the ‘school’ environment for as long as we can. Maybe what we are doing is nothing to shout about but it’s very meaningful for the Rohingya community,” Muslim Aid Malaysia Chairman Habsah Marjuni told Bernama.

Being prepared for the future

Although Malaysia only offered the refugees temporary shelter, Habsah was confident that the informal education the children receive would, to a certain extent, enable them to be more prepared for resettlement in a third country.

She said while most of the refugee children came to Malaysia with their families, some of them had ended up in this country as unaccompanied minors after nearly becoming victims of human traffickers.

Besides a registration fee RM5, PIMA did not charge any other fees, Habsah said, adding that its classes were held in a hall rented by Muslim Aid. The organisation also took care of the teachers’ salaries and purchase of stationery, books and apparatus for art and other activities.

When PIMA was opened two years ago, it had 95 students. Twenty-five of them have since been placed in third countries with their families. The centre currently has 85 students, including some who had arrived in the country just a few months ago.

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