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Informal education prepares Rohingya chidren for resettlement

Nur Kaidah Nur Alam’s ambition is to open a bakery and when asked why, the 13-year-old replied in all innocence, “Because I love to eat chocolate cake.”

Nur Kaidah, whose parents are Rohingya refugees who had fled Myanmar with their family to escape the persecution and strife they faced in their homeland, said she has been dreaming of having her own bakery ever since she tasted a piece of chocolate cake given to her by a friend.

“I know I have to do well in school first, then learn to make cakes and open a shop. Then, I can eat all the cake I want and earn some money for my family,” said the bright-eyed teen, who was born in Malaysia.

Nur Kaidah is a student at the Muslim Aid Knowledge Centre (Pima), a school specially set up for Rohingya children in Kampung Ampang Tambahan in Ampang, and run by the Muslim Aid Malaysia Humanitarian Foundation.

Nur Kaidah, who has nine other siblings aged between three and 24, used to live in Terengganu before her family moved to Kuala Lumpur in search of a better life and education for the children.

Her classmate Amin Sharif Hasan Sharif, 12, is a big fan of Malaysian astronaut Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor and intends to follow in his footsteps.

“I will study hard so that I too can become a national astronaut,” said the youngster, who considers himself a Malaysian.

Amin Sharif, who has been a student at Pima for the past two years, is aware that his family may eventually be placed in a third country but said if he had his way, he would prefer to remain in Malaysia.

Relating how he ended up in Malaysia, the boy said four years ago, his mother took him and his two younger siblings on an arduous long journey across Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Thailand to Malaysia so that they could join his father, who had been working in this country for some years.

Amin Sharif said his father was helping a relative with his electrical wiring business while his mother was jobless.

An estimated 33,710 refugee children aged below 18 are currently registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

Considering that education is the key to equipping these children, who include Rohingyas, with the knowledge and skills they would need to free themselves from poverty, do they have access to educational opportunities in Malaysia?

Since children of refugees in Malaysia do not have access to formal education, they can still get a decent informal education at special “schools” set up for them by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), religious organisations and other interested parties.

According to UNHCR spokesman Yante Ismail, there are 126 community learning centres for refugee children, including 31 specifically for young Rohingyas.

She said 29% of refugee children in Malaysia have access to these learning centres, which provide pre-school, primary and secondary education.

Eleven of the learning centres are run by NGOs while the rest are operated by religious and other groups.

Besides extending financial grants to the community learning centres, UNHCR also helps to train volunteers and teachers and foot the children’s transportation and food bills, as well as provide stationery and teaching aids.

Yante said the students, aged between four and 17, were taught four main subjects – English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mathematics and Science.

However, as she said, there was limited scope for them to learn and accomplish more due to the shortage of resources, including qualified teachers.

The classes are conducted at rented premises in flats or shophouses, which are usually overcrowded and lack basic learning facilities.

Despite the limited resources, the children still get a chance to learn to read, write and count at the various learning centres, said Yante.

To enable them to function normally in any society they are thrust into, they are also taught social skills and to embrace values like cooperation, tolerance and acceptance.

“However, opportunities for the refugee children to further their education remain challenging. UNHCR and the various NGOs are always seeking opportunities for youths to learn vocational skills to enable them to face a brighter future.”

She said the UNHCR has signed memoranda of understanding with the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and International University Malaya-Wales to enable 42 refugee youths to take up undergraduate programmes at the institutions concerned.

Nuruljannah Oyong, 24, one of the teachers attached to Pima, meanwhile, said all her students were diligent, hardworking and disciplined.

Source: The Malaysian Insider