11:59am 02/03/2022
Please have a heart, education ministry

The recent incident of a nine-year-old girl in Sarawak who was denied access to education because of her documentation status is heart wrenching.

She is one of a large number of children in Malaysia who are denied their basic right to education, some born to Malaysian parents.

A conservative estimate suggests that in excess of 300,000 children in Malaysia are currently denied education as a result of being stateless, refugees, asylum-seekers or undocumented.

What is confusing is that this denial of access to education takes place in the face of national policies that support education for all children in Malaysia regardless of their documentation status.

A summary of national policies that support education for all include:

  1. The National Education Policy (2017, page 22) states that primary education is compulsory for all children aged 6 to 12 years, and this includes non-citizens.
  2. The Zero Reject Policy launched in 2018 was aimed to ensure that all children in the country, including undocumented children, will have access to education.
  3. In May 2021, then Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin reiterated in a Teacher’s Day speech that the government pledged to ensure that no student in Malaysia would be denied a proper education, including undocumented children.

Hence, we need to ask why this is not effective on the ground? Why are schools asking for citizenship documents before admitting children for basic education?

We no longer have a ‘Zero Reject Policy’ but a ‘Sure to Reject Policy’ if the child is undocumented.

Why do the large number of stateless Malaysians (an oxymoron here) in Sabah and Sarawak continue to be denied the same rights as the rest of our children?

Why are refugee children in detention denied even basic reading and writing skills?

Is this a problem of local ‘little Napoleons’ or a backtracking of policy by the Education Ministry? Even going against our Prime Minister’s promises?

A recent detailed analysis by Dr Tharani Loganathan and colleagues, of the failure to provide education to children from undocumented families in Malaysia is worth reading; it highlights all the issues and problems for the different undocumented communities including refugees and asylum-seekers, migrants and stateless persons in Malaysia.

We would be appalled if the same standard we apply to these children was applied to our children when overseas.

When many of us travel to study abroad, we are readily accepted into the education system of many other nations. But we do not offer the same to those who come to our nation.

We have Malaysians and the government actively fighting for Palestinian children 7,600km away but not fighting for children in our county. It is long overdue that we fix our own backyard.

Poverty is a life-time trap that is very difficult to come out of and has devastating impacts on children and families.

We all know that education is one vehicle that creates opportunities for children and families to come out of this ‘trap’. Denying these children education is effectively imprisoning them, and their future children, in poverty.

These children are not numbers or statistics but real lives that are damaged by our behavior and response.

Note that while we have spoken here about education, the same right should also apply to health access for all children.

We appeal to the Education Ministry to enforce our national policy and aspiration to provide quality education to all children in Malaysia.

Any nation that does not provide food, shelter, education and health to all children as a basic right regardless of their documented status, is a failed nation.





7 mth ago

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