PETALING JAYA: The government must undertake a thorough study before admitting refugee children into public schools to prevent them from being alienated and subjected to bullying, a refugee activist said.
Fugee School co-founder Deborah Henry said every effort must be made to build trust so that refugee children can be assimilated into the national education system alongside local students who must learn to co-exist with them.
“If it’s not done well, we will end up with bullying. We will end up with the refugee kids feeling alienated and not wanting to go to school,” said Henry.
Salma Abu Bakar, a teacher at Fugee School and herself a refugee, said refugee children would need to overcome low self-esteem and a lack of belief in what they can achieve.
Henry called for the education ministry to launch a pilot programme before introducing refugee children to public schools.
The education ministry said in June that rules on school admission would be amended to ensure that all children, including those of non-citizens and undocumented people, have access to education.
Henry said “the implementation, the management and the process need to be thorough on all sides”, and must be “coupled with comprehensive support and training.”
She recognised that the public school system has limitations which may affect its ability to properly cater for the refugee children. However, she said resources were available to help overcome most of those limitations.
“If we are really serious about these things, there are a lot of places from which we can learn so we don’t make the same mistakes,” said Henry.
She said several countries with huge refugee populations, such as Lebanon and Turkey, have successfully integrated refugee children into their public schools.
Salma said public schools would give refugee children more opportunities and a better education.
“We can only provide basic education in English, Mathematics and Science.
“If they go to a public school, they will get more opportunities and benefit from more experienced teachers,” she said.
Fugee School is part of a non-profit organisation that helps to educate refugee children and prepare them for working life.
Refugee children in Malaysia are currently denied access to public schools and can only turn to small learning centres run by refugee communities and NGOs.
However, these learning centres suffer a lack of funds, resources and qualified teachers.
“The way to tackle this is by encouraging the private sector to partner with refugee learning centres and refugee organisations to advocate more support for education,” said Henry.
She said Malaysia possesses the resources, money and talent which can be mobilised towards providing a better education for refugees.
“There are a lot of people now – in our government and policy makers – that recognise we need to do something, and that’s the first step,” said Henry.
Mustafa, a refugee student at Fugee School, is determined to pursue a career in computer science and said he will not be deterred from his pursuing his dream. He believes that anyone who is willing to learn can do so.
Dunia, another Fugee student, wants to attend college overseas and aims to be a successful graphic designer.
They, and all other refugee children, should be allowed every opportunity to realise their dreams.