Alternative education centres and access to education in Malaysia
By Jason Spierings
Throughout my volunteer work for Fugee School, through the CandleLighters Volunteer Program, I have been working on a mapping and coordination project in collaboration with the UNHCR education unit.
The UNHCR has not previously been able to focus on secondary education, so there is little information available about what schools are providing secondary education and in what manner. Changes to the operational and funding environment have allowed UNHCR to give greater attention to secondary education for the coming year.
I have accompanied a UNHCR team to visit the refugee community learning centres that are offering some form of secondary education. The goal is to map out all centres offering some form of secondary education, including significant information, such as what levels are being offered, curriculum being used, cultural groups being served, capacity, extra-curricular activities etc. We are also gathering information on successes and things working well, aspirations for each school, and challenges. We hope to develop a sub-sector strategy for secondary education.
Children and young people from refugee backgrounds in Malaysia are not able to access public schools. International private schools exist, however, these are expensive and students are required to have a valid visa to attend (which the majority of refugees do not have).
Without alternative learning centres such as Fugee School, children from refugee backgrounds would not be able to access their fundamental human right to education. With the recent change of government in Malaysia, people within the sector are hoping that changes may allow for refugee children to access public schools. This had previously been the case under the new Prime Minister when he was previously in power during the 1980s.
Even if such a substantial policy change were to take place, it would be likely that some children – such as asylum seekers, those not yet registered with UNHCR, and other children of irregular migrants – would continue to need the services of alternative learning centres.
The current rates of refugee children accessing education in Malaysia are 44% for those aged 6-13 years, and only 16% for those aged 14-17 years. While there are large numbers of community learning centres, there are even larger numbers of those wanting to attend.
The majority of secondary schools that I have visited had waiting lists, with Fugee School itself having a waiting list of roughly 60 children.
Last week I began working more intensively with the Project Stand Up youth team. The team comprised of 10 young refugees from Somalia, Yemen, and Libya undertook a ‘design sprint’ at a small nature retreat in Templer Park on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Here, we lived together for three nights and focussed on finalising the design of several aspects of Project Stand Up. I was blown away by this experience and can’t wait to tell you more about working with PSU.