Refugee children in Malaysia are denied access to the formal education system.
Dr Abdul Razak Ahmad, Ph.D.
Bait Al Amanah
For any child, anywhere, education is not a luxury; it’s a necessity, a fundamental right.
Access to this right shouldn’t be confined by their race, creed or other circumstances of birth.
However, the hard truth is that here in Malaysia, there is hardly any space for refugee children and youth in the country’s formal education system.
Malaysia has never had a national policy and strategy to educate refugee children and youth, and it isn’t easy to envision Malaysia’s current situation changing.
The issue of language, cultural differences and the vast number of refugees children are some of the challenges that could be used to justify Malaysia’s position.
While we pursue and advocate for a policy shift, we must continue to move forward and explore a less state, more societal approach.
This is the better approach because there is a sense of urgency here. Firstly, global humanitarian needs are at critical levels and rising.
Forty million children will need education and humanitarian assistance in 2021. More than half of the world’s refugees are children; if nothing changes, their children will be refugees too.
We can deliver food, immunizations and aid to these children to safeguard their health and keep them alive.
But without providing education, we failed to help in the first place.
Secondly, while the resettlement of those children and youth are being determined per international protection protocols, none should be denied the right to education.
What a child does in the future, and the potential impact they contribute to the world depends mainly on their education.
Thirdly, Malaysians, not just Malaysia, have the responsibility to provide at least education to the most impoverished, the last, and then forgotten.
How do we move forward?
Since no national agency is responsible for this humanitarian need of the refugee communities in Malaysia, we need to work together to set up one.
It is high time for Malaysia to have a government-supported but privately-led national agency to provide education to the refugees in Malaysia.
This agency could be a trust, corporation, or social enterprise.
The mandate is to manage various capacity-building initiatives for refugee communities in Malaysia and to coordinate the excellent work of the diverse civil society in delivering education to the refugees’ children.
Eventually, this agency could be expanded in terms of role and objectives and be made the catalyst for the establishment of Malaysia’s International Development Agency, Malaysia’s version of international development and humanitarian initiatives like JICA, US AIDS and others.
Malaysia’s foreign policy lacks the soft power dimension, and the proposed agency could be the strategy to spearhead Malaysia’s more significant and better coordinated international development work.
Second, using public funds is not feasible to support the Agency’s activities.
Society must devise an innovative solution if the government can’t provide the financing.
In the case of Malaysia, it is best to ground a solution in Islamic finance because most of the refugees in Malaysia are from Muslim countries.
We should leverage the resources of the ummah. Thus, Malaysia should consider creating global waqf to support refugees’ education.
The proposed coordinating agency should then manage the Global Endowment for Education of Displaced Children.
This fund will then be used to support the Agency’s work in education, skills training and other capacity-building projects.
Third, the Ministry of Education allows the proposed Agency to use Malaysia’s curriculum to ensure a more structured and globally accredited education system.
Education is the single most significant transformative factor for the individual, the nation and society. Investing in a child’s education is not just an investment in their future but also ours.
Societies cannot thrive unless all children and young people have a quality education that provides them with academic knowledge and an understanding of values.
This captures the fundamental reasons we need to urgently respond to the need for more equitable access to education, where no child is left behind.
Furthermore, we are at a moment when the nation requires a vast pool of talent and pragmatism more than ever, and even more so when society is starting to lose its fabric of humanity and selflessness.
Dr Abdul Razak Ahmad is the Founding Director of Bait Al Amanah. All opinions here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the stand of TRP. For more information regarding Bait Al Amanah, you can visit the Bait Al Amanah website.