Founder cries foul after Sabah school for undocumented kids shut down

Michael Liman (right) presenting a certificate of completion to a kindergarten pupil last year.

KOTA KINABALU: The operator of an independent education centre for undocumented children in Penampang is up in arms over its recent closure by the district education office.

Michael Liman, who founded the Hope Learning Centre in November 2007, said the centre, which provided basic education for children who cannot go to school due to documentation problems, was told to close its doors late last month.

He claimed the education authorities did not issue official notification or a letter on the closure.

Speaking to FMT, Liman said he had gone to the district education office in January to try and negotiate for a grace period until the end of the term in May.

“However, on April 15 when we visited the education office to further negotiate on the closing issue, we were instead given the final notice to close down the centre a month earlier.”

The notice cited, among others, the fact that the centre was not registered under the district education office and that the premise used for the centre did not meet the office’s requirements.

“We did ask for an official written letter or notice to close down the centre but we never received any. The officers there also mentioned that they are shutting down all alternative learning centres (ALCs) in the district of Penampang,” Liman said.

He added that as many as 260 students aged five to 16 had been affected by the closure of his centre.

About 70% of his students were of Filipino descent, 20% of Indonesian descent and 10% Malaysians.

According to Michael Liman, the centre tries to provide its students with an experience similar to that in public schools.

Liman said while he did not mind closing the school, it bothered him that the children had lost their only access to education.

“We never asked for nor received a single sen from the government to run our centre. If the government cannot provide education for these kids, then draw a policy to legalise ALCs to do it for them.

“I am not against any government policy or law. I just want justice for the marginalised children. I stand to be corrected, just let us know the right way of doing it,” he said.

He added that parents had been contributing money to keep the centre open but that this was not enough to cover the cost of running the centre.

When contacted, Sabah Education Department director Mistrine Radin said the district education office has the authority to close down unregistered learning centres after giving sufficient notice.

The 12-year-old alternative learning centre catered to students aged five to 16.

She said she was told by the office in Penampang that the learning centre run by Liman was unregistered and had been collecting fees from students’ parents.

“The district council also did not approve of their premise, and they did not have any clearance from the health department and the fire and rescue department.

“The centre is located above a shop in Donggongon, Penampang, and the students wear school uniforms similar to those worn by students in public schools,” she added.

She also confirmed that the office had advised Liman about the issue, including on the government’s policy that such learning centres can only be operated in plantations.

She declined to say how many such centres there were in Penampang and how many had been ordered to close down.