Include the stateless in zero-reject education policy, Putrajaya told

Stateless children should at least be allowed to enrol in primary schools so they can acquire basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic, says an academic. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: An academic has urged the government to include stateless children as beneficiaries of its zero-reject education policy.

The denial of any child’s right to an education could turn out to be the root cause of future problems, said Madeline Berma of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s School of Economics and Management.

Speaking to FMT, she said stateless children should at least be allowed to enrol in primary schools so they could acquire basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic.

The zero-reject policy, which is being implemented in stages, is essentially a guarantee that children with special needs and those who are categorised as “undocumented” will be given access to education in public schools.

Madeline Berma.

An “undocumented person” is usually someone who has yet to be granted citizenship despite having one parent who is a Malaysian. A “stateless person” refers, most of the time, to someone born in Malaysia to non-citizens. People of both categories are especially numerous in Sabah.

Berma, who was born in Sarawak and is known for her social activism, called for an easier process in the acceptance of undocumented children into public schools. “At present,” she said, “it’s quite a lengthy process. You need verification from the village head.”

She also called for completely free education at primary school level, saying many of the families of undocumented children could not afford the fees charged for certain programmes. They should also be provided with free uniforms and exercise books, she added.

Jennifer Lasimbang, Sabah’s assistant minister of education and innovation, said Sabah would face some challenges when the policy is implemented in the state, mainly due to a lack of data.

She said there needed to be a proper study to find out the actual number of undocumented persons in the state. “It’s difficult to plan to accommodate them in the future when you don’t know the number. Definitely, more resources are needed when we progress into zero policy.”

Jennifer Lasimbang.

Lasimbang said she would recommend integrating health screening into the process of admitting undocumented children into public schools because of the likelihood that many of them had not been vaccinated against communicable diseases.

She also said there would be a need to build more schools because many schools were even now already overcrowded, especially those in urban and suburban areas.

On the question of enrolling children with disabilities, she said there must be an effort to inform parents about the different schools and programmes available for different disabilities.

However, she added, many such children lived far away from such schools and it would be a struggle for their parents to send them there.

“For those who live in remote areas, even to get their disabilities diagnosed is a problem,” she said.

Under the policy, special needs children can receive education through mainstream schools via the Inclusive Education Programme or the Special Education Integrated Programme. Parents can also opt to send their children to the Special Education School at primary and secondary levels.