Malaysia's progress in making education more inclusive for children of migrants and refugees is too slow, according to the 2019 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), published today in conjunction with International Children’s Day.
The report, entitled Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges Not Walls, highlights countries’ achievements and shortcomings in ensuring the right of migrant and refugee children to benefit from quality education, a right that serves the interests of both learners and the communities they live in.
The executive summary of the report states that the right of these children to quality education, though increasingly recognised on paper, it is challenged daily in classrooms and school yards and denied outright by a few governments.
The report pointed out in Malaysia’s Sabah state, children of Filipino and Indonesian migrants are identified as orang asing (foreigner) on birth certificates and cannot attend public school.
The same goes to the Rohingya children in Malaysia who are denied access to education due to the protracted statelessness.
Manos Antoninis, Director of the Report said: “Considerable changes are being made in countries from Chad and Uganda to Lebanon and Turkey to make education more inclusive for children, no matter their identification or residency status. It is time for Malaysia to do the same”
While curricula can be adapted locally to embrace diversity, the report said, not all school heads are aware of the issues or motivated or equipped to lead the development of intercultural understanding in their schools.
It said in Malaysia, school leaders who were asked to implement an intercultural programme were hampered by lack of guidance from the government and little autonomy for adaptation.
Particular emphasis is made on the chronic education needs of refugee children with disabilities in the country. Learning centre teachers in Malaysia observed that some families with limited means kept children with disabilities out of school in favour of sending their siblings.
The report listed seven recommendations for the education of migrants and displaced people - their rights be protected, they are included in the national education system, their education needs understood and planned, their histories represented in education accurately to challenge prejudices, teachers prepared to address diversity and hardship, their potential harnessed and their education supported through humanitarian and development aid.
The executive summary of the report states that migration and displacement are two global challenges that interact with education in many ways. Both affect those who move, those who stay and those who host immigrants, refugees or other displaced populations.
Internal migration affects mainly many rapidly urbanizing middle income countries, such as China, where one in three rural children are left behind. International migration affects mainly high income countries where immigrants make up at least 15% of the student population in half of schools.
In recent years, all around the world, governments have taken increasingly bold steps to assume education responsibilities for migrants and refugees that used to exist only in the realm of international agreements.