Ensuring Every Child Has Access To Education
George Washington Carver once said, “Education is the key to unlock 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 socioeconomic 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, the university, the media, etc., and in such an integrated and balanced manner that would develop human personality, strengthen man’s faith in Allah and promote man’s respect to and defence of both rights and obligations.”
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 (or society and government) to provide education which is the right of children. An excellent example of this is found in the words of Luqman to his son, related in the Quran where he advised him to obey parents unless they command munkar, 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 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 the data presented in the 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 organization dealing with an alternative holistic education for vulnerable groups including stateless children in East Sabah. In this regard, the participation of NGOs is very crucial to galvanize government’s effort in fulfilling the requirements of SDG4.
Since its inception in 2011, there are now a total of 11 PPMIs and an estimate of 30 more to be established upon high demand from local communities. HALUAN aims at establishing 1001 PPMIs across Sabah to eradicate illiteracy and minimise school dropout rates. To help realize these objectives, a group of Muslim professionals NGOs had sent a team of 14 activists including this writer to PPMI Kg. Tagupi Laut, Lahad Datu, Sabah. The programme named #Tagupi Membaca held from 10th to 13th October 2018 aimed at delivering 410kg of reading materials and conducting training and English classes.
The four-day programme revealed the great passion that the PPMI’s teaching assistants and students have towards knowledge and education. No stumbling block 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 done 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 other rights. 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 the National Reading Month in July, let us give every child and community the golden opportunity to learn and read, as a literate child makes an informed adult. The Prophet SAW said, “He who inaugurated a good practice in Islam which was followed after him (by people) would be assured of reward like one who followed it, without their rewards being diminished in any respect.” (Muslim)