Malaysia students teach refugee children who are barred from public schools

A student group in Malaysia has been teaching refugee children who are barred from attending public schools.

The Sunway Student Volunteers, SSV, from Sunway University, in Subang, started the “Myanmar Mentor Program” with Building Bridge Beyond Borders, BBBB, to provide basic English and Maths education to around 50 refugee children from Myanmar living in Malaysia.

Yan Yan, 20, secretary of SSV, who taught around 20 of the children said: “Most of the refugees come to Malaysia because of the war in their country and most of them cannot get education like normal children.

“This made us think that we can provide education to the refugees to empower them to know more knowledge.”

Malaysia has not signed the UNHCR’s 1951 Refugee Convention. Because of this refugees are not eligible to attend government schools. They can attend private schools. But these are often too expensive.

The SSV recruited volunteers who taught at the Myanmar Refugee Community Learning centre for a period of two to three months.

Yan Yan said: “I could see that refugee children were quite different from normal students, not in terms of their learning abilities, but because of their personality and their living conditions.

“They cherished every moment that the teacher came to the centre to teach them, even if that teacher came for just one or two weeks.

“When I interacted with them, I would say that they are a lot more mature than normal kids at their age.”

The lockdown due to Covid caused the teaching to move online and many children did not have access to the internet or laptops in their homes for months that caused some children to miss out on learning.

Dr Saradha Narayanan, project director of BBBB said: “That shows the huge digital divide which has been propagated by Covid-19 and it has exacerbated and created an even bigger gap between the have and the have nots.

“The volunteers who come and work with us, they not only act as teachers but they also act as mentors and role models.”

Dr Saradha added: “We need people who are able to represent the voice of the voiceless. They need someone to speak on their behalf before they become brave enough to speak on their own behalf.

“The government should allow them to go to schools here. No child should be out of school for an extended period of time.”

Yan Yan added: “When you see the sincere smiles on their faces, you definitely think that it’s worth contributing more to society. Even your small efforts can bring a huge difference to the community that you helped.”

“We can give a sense of belonging to the minority who are usually ignored. We can let them feel like they are not alone.”

In person lessons are due to start again in April.

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