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Reaching the Unreached: An Evaluation of the Alternative Education Programme for Refugee, Undocumented and Stateless Children in Kg. Numbak, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

By Wivina Belmonte
UNICEF Representative, Malaysia

Good morning, Selamat Pagi, Selamat Hari Raya

Thank you all for being here today to hear about the Evaluation of the Alternative Educaton Programme for Refugee, Undocumented and Stateless Children in Kg. Numbak.

UNICEF's Role – Protection of All Children

For those of you unfamiliar with UNICEF's work in Malaysia, let me just say, UNICEF is the UN agency with a mandate to defend and help realise the rights of children. Since 1954, we have proudly worked with the Government, civil society and young people in Malaysia to give children the best start to life. We use our expertise and experience to inform and guide decision makers regarding the importance and benefits of fulfilling children's rights, and to support them in meeting the challenges that face children and those who care for them.

While the situation for children throughout the world is changing for the better, we all know there are still severe gaps. Children from marginalised communities including refugees, undocumented and indigenous groups around the world continue to face particular challenges and barriers.

One such obstacle is the alarming gap in access to quality education.

Equity in Education

Education is one of the most fundamental aspects in a child's development; from early childhood onwards, the level and quality of education obtained is a critical factor to the wellbeing of the child when s/he grows up, be it financially, socially or intellectually. Ample evidence makes the case, correlating higher levels of education to correspondingly higher earnings, better health and a longer life. The reverse, as we know, is also true. So a fair and inclusive system that makes quality education available to all is one of the most powerful levels for making society more equitable. The significance of education is evident through programmes such as UNESCO's 'Education for All'.

And, from a macro economic and policy perspective, we know how critical investment in human capital is – it is essential to becoming a fully developed, high income economy.

For UNICEF, equity in education means paying special attention to the most marginalised and disadvantaged children, to ensure that they also have access to education. This interpretation is consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), whose signatories, Malaysia among them, commit to providing for the fundamental rights of every child, regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs, income or geographical location.

Equity in education has two dimensions. The first is fairness, which means making sure that personal and social circumstances – for example gender, socio-economic status or ethnic origin – should not be an obstacle to achieving educational potential. The second is inclusion, in other words, ensuring a basic minimum standard of education for all – for example that everyone should be able to read, write and do simple arithmetic. UNICEF's approach to equity in education involves removing barriers, within and outside education systems to provide educational and learning opportunities for all, with particular attention to marginalised children.

Education in Malaysia

Over the last 50 years, Malaysia has made enormous advances in education with a continuous focus on access to, equity and quality education. While it is clear that Malaysia has achieved significant and commendable progress in providing children with access to education – it is also clear more must be done to pursue the admittedly challenging goal of also ensuring access for the poor, marginalised and the excluded to education. Despite the provision for compulsory education under the Education Act, there are still pockets of children who are not enrolled in schools or have dropped out.

In Malaysia, over 125, 000 children do not have access to primary education, especially children in very remote areas, those without proper documentation and those who are in plantations.

We cannot ignore so many children who are deprived of an education. We can only reach the Education For All and MDG Goals for education if we work in all communities, including in – especially in – the most vulnerable and marginalised communities.

Unlike countries like Thailand and Indonesia, or even India and Bangladesh, Malaysia has yet to recognise Alternative Learning Programmes (ALP) as an option to existing formal education.

Evidence has shown ALPs are enabling countries in the Asia-Pacific region to progress more quickly towards their 2015 EFA goals and that such programmes are providing opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalised groups. An alternative route to education for those who do not have access to the national education system is essential in order to fulfill children's rights under CRC and to achieve ERA and MDG goals by 2015.

In Malaysia, refugee and undocumented children have not been able to access government services, including health and education. Whether the issue is legal status, poverty or distance, the number of refugee and undocumented children in Sabah is rising. These children, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines, often face the prospect of a childhood… without spending a single day in school. So instead, some end up spending their childhood on the streets, as child labourers, and are exposed at an early age to things like glue sniffing, drugs, petty crime or child abuse.

Kampung Numbak Learning Center – Ensuring equal access and quality

Which brings us to the topic of the day – The Learning Center in Kampung Numbak. This learning center is a first initiative by UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Sabah Special Task Force, the Teacher Foundation and the community, to provide access to basic education for out-of-school children.

The education center follows the National Curriculum with emphasis on reading, writing, arithmetic, Islamic Studies and life skills. The center, which began its operations in January 2011, has provided basic education for more than 700 refugee and undocumented children.

We're here today, to be informed on an evaluation of this work. The primary purpose for the evaluation is to provide knowledge about the experience, lessons learnt and outcomes so that the Ministry of Education, Sabah Special Task Force and other education stakeholders can use this as evidence for future advocacy and in the design of other Alternative Learning models elsewhere across Malaysia.


Each child who is out of school has dreams that may never be fulfilled and potential that may never be realised. Education is a fundamental human right. Every child is entitled to it. It is critical to our development as individuals and as a society. When we ensure that marginalised children have access to an education – to a quality education – we lay the foundation for growth, transformation, innovation and opportunity. Better still, we create a ripple effect that impacts not only the present generation, but generations to come. It is an investment that pays immediate and future dividends.

The evaluation of the alternative education programme in Kampung Numbak is key to providing evidence for what works, what does not work and what needs to be improved. This is in line with the Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025, to provide access up to secondary education for all children by 2020. We aim to support MoE and the Malaysian government to develop innovative learning models that can benefit national policies and strategies, which in turn can be scaled up as good practices for the education system as a whole.

On behalf of UNICEF, I would like to extend my appreciation to Professor Vincent Pang and University Malaysia Sabah for conducting the evaluation. I would also like to extend particular thanks to our partners, the Sabah Special Task Force and the Ministry of Education. To Cikgu Salena and the teachers of Kampung Numbak Education Center and Mr. Yakob, Village Head of Kampung Numbak, we owe you a special debt of gratitude for your commitment. To those of you in the audience, allow me to thank you for your commitment and dedication to our shared objective – the betterment of children's lives. Together we can and have made a difference towards the realisation of all children's rights to education in Malaysia. Our work… continues.

Thank you.





Wivina Belmonte - UNICEF Representative, Malaysia

Ms. Wivina Belmonte

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