Right to education is for every child

Education is an alienable right of every child, the importance of which should not go over the heads of people whose decisions can affect a child's future

Stateless children in Malaysia - Photograph: EPA/Al Jazeera

There are politicians and activists who have every reason to be dismayed when it was highlighted recently that stateless children continue to be denied by the Penang Education Department the right to be enrolled into public schools in the state.

The department still insists on a passport or approved Malaysian citizenship status before allowing a child to have access to basic education, even though the federal government has given permission. This policy is likely to affect parents who adopt stateless children.

According to civil society group Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA), six stateless children in Penang could not enrol in public schools.

As most of us are aware, formal education is crucial in helping to equip a child with skills and knowledge that would subsequently help her to address life’s challenges as well as harness her potential to be a useful and good citizen or individual.

This largely explains the concerns and distress of the politicians and activists, which resonate with the philosophy of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) regarding children’s education: “All children have the right to go to school and learn, regardless of who they are, where they live or how much money their family has.”

Such a denial of the basic right to education is obviously unjust to not only the stateless children but also every child in the country. Every effort should be made to ensure that education in our public schools is accessible to all.

The significance and value of children’s education couldn’t have been better appreciated and expressed by former education minister Maszlee Malik, who has made it his mission to run a programme called “Save the Dropouts” through his civil society group Untuk Malaysia.

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His education-oriented outfit aims to save what he calls a lost generation of children who have fallen behind in their studies as a result of the pandemic, the movement control order, a lack of communication devices, such as laptops and mobile phones, and poor or no internet connectivity to enable them to follow virtual classes.

Children from poor families are especially hit by the pandemic. Poverty and a home environment that is not conducive to learning prevent the children from having equal access to formal education, and this is where educational assistance, such as that provided by Maszlee and his team, comes in handy.

The value of education has also not escaped the attention of parents of the Orang Asli, an indigenous group that is often neglected, much less consulted, in many aspects of national development.

That is why the Mah Meri tribe, for instance, has expressed deep concern recently about problems faced by their children in getting access to virtual classes owing to a lack of devices as well as internet connectivity issues. Quality education would be a distant dream for the children unless and until these issues are addressed adequately and urgently.

Such a dire situation explains why some parents and concerned Malaysians who value education are troubled by the delay in rolling out to needy children the 150,000 laptops that were promised by the government in its Budget 2021.

Initiatives to help refugee children get basic education in Malaysia should also help convince certain officers at the Penang Education Department or people of similar ilk that education is clearly important to people, irrespective of their socioeconomic background, ethnicity, gender and even legal status.

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Some refugee children have to rely on education projects run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and civil society organisations or resource-poor community-based education classes as they are denied access to public schools in Malaysia.

Indeed, education is an alienable right of every child, the importance of which should not go over the heads of people whose decisions can affect a child’s future. – The Malaysian Insight

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