Ensuring every child has access to education – Wan Roslili Abd Majid

George Washington Carver once said,‘education is the key to unlocking the golden door of freedom’.

In many places around the globe, however, children are denied their right to education due to reasons such as unaffordability, living in crises such as wars, natural disasters and epidemics plus inability to meet certain requirements to enrol into the school system.

These barriers exclude 263 million young people from school and deny them the chance to reach their full potential.

Exclusion from school will fuel intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage including socio-economic exploitation and violation of freedom and dignity.

Education as a fundamental right is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and many other international human rights instruments including the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI, 1990).

Interestingly, CDHRI stipulates that,‘every human being has a right to receive both religious and worldly education from the various institutions of teaching, education and guidance, including the family, the school and the university’.

The emphasis on the above rights and obligations goes hand- in-hand with the whole of the Islamic system as Islam emphasises the obligations of parents to provide education which is the right of children. An excellent example of this is found in the words of religious scholar Luqman Hakim related in the Quran where he advised his son to obey his parents unless they commit munkar (go against Allah) to be constant in prayer and to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.

The right to education is also one of the key principles underpinning the United Nations Education 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4).

SDG4 aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all.

Though Malaysia has given its commitment to all 17 goals under the United Nations SDG 2030 and in particular SDG4, it has not adopted inclusive universal education. Citizenship is still the basic requirement for enrolment into the national school system.

This fact will definitely vanquish the dreams of thousands of stateless, migrant and refugee children from reaping the benefits of early education.

Based on data presented in Parliament in 2016, there were 290,437 stateless and 34,600 refugee children in Malaysia.

Without elementary education, the children will continue to be vulnerable. In many cases, they were completely denied from enjoying their right to education while in extraordinary situations, various organisations took remarkable effort to realise the children’s dream to be in school.

The establishment of charity schools, or Pusat Pembangunan Minda Insan (PPMI), initiated by HALUAN Sabah, is one such instance of realising children’s school dream. HALUAN is a community- based organisation dealing with an alternative holistic education for vulnerable groups including stateless children in East Sabah. In this regard, the participation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is crucial to galvanise the government’s effort in fulfilling the requirements of SDG4.

Since its inception in 2011, there are now 11 PPMIs and another 30 more to be established upon high demand from local communities. HALUAN aims to establish 1,001 PPMIs across Sabah to eradicate illiteracy and minimise school dropout rates.

To help realise these objectives, a group of Muslim professionals and NGOs — MACSA (Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations) had sent a team of 14 activists, including this writer, to PPMI Kampung Tagupi Laut, Lahad Datu, Sabah.

The programme, named #Tagupi Membaca, was held from Oct 10-13, 2018 and was aimed at delivering 410kg of reading materials and conducting training and English classes. The four-day programme revealed the passion that PPMI’s teaching assistants and students have towards knowledge and education.

No impediment would prevent them from constantly engaging in teaching and learning sessions, be they distance, financial constraint, lack of teaching and learning tools, or inadequate infrastructure. All of these prove that much more concerted efforts need to be conducted to ensure the protection of their basic human right, especially with the announcement by the government in October 2018 to allow stateless children to enrol into mainstream schools.

Thus, PPMI is one possible transit educational centre for those children who are in the process of obtaining the necessary documentation to enable them to enrol into national schools.

Education is an empowering right and an indispensable means of realising the rights of others. It is also an enabler to allow society to grow.

However, children would miss the opportunity to develop into productive and participatory adults if their right to a proper education is taken away.

In conjunction with National Reading Month in July, let us give every child and community the golden opportunity to learn and read, as a literate child makes for an informed adult. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, ‘He who inaugurated a good practice in Islam which was followed after him (by people) would be assured of reward like the one who followed it, without their rewards being diminished in any respect.

Wan Roslili Abd Majid
Fellow at centre for the study of syariah, law and politics, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM)
Fellow at CENTHRA

*Published in New Straits Times

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