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Education empowers children and communities

International Literacy Day • 8 September 2010
A child’s ABCs lays the foundation for growth, transformation, opportunity and equality

© UNICEF Malaysia/2010/Nadchatram
UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Mr. Hans Olsen with Bajau Laut children at the Lill-Babs Learning Centre in Bum Bum Island.

KUALA LUMPUR, 8 SEPTEMBER 2010 – “School is a lot of fun. I learn to read and count and sing. I study hard because I want to be a teacher,” shared bubbly 12-year old Ina, one of 200 Bajau Laut children attending the Lill-Babs Learning Centre in Sabah’s Bum Bum Island.

An indigenous people who for centuries have lived on boats in the seas between Mindanao, Sabah and Sulawesi, the Bajau Laut have historically not enrolled their children in school due to their nomadic seafaring lifestyle or because their children have no birth registration. Without an education, Bajau Laut children tend to end up begging on the streets where they are exposed to violence, abuse, exploitation and the risk of HIV infection.

“Educating all children, including those living on the margins of society, is the first step towards reducing disparities and eliminating poverty,” said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Mr. Hans Olsen. “When children are empowered with education, they can improve their standard of living.”

Broken promises

Education is not the privilege of a few, but the right of all children, everywhere, as accorded to them by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and reinforced by the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the goals of the Dakar Framework for Action.

Yet, some 101 million children of primary school age across the world were not enrolled in school in 2007; 88 per cent of whom live in Africa and Asia as a result of poverty, local customs and gender discrimination. Out-of-school children represent a broken promise to children affecting the health and future of themselves, their families as well as the education system and the overall development potential of the countries where they live.

“Children are less likely to be healthy, grow strong or be safe without an education. They are less likely to fully participate in their communities or raise healthy children themselves one day,” highlighted Mr. Olsen. “Without universal education, countries are less likely to achieve other development goals.”

Achieving universal primary education

In Malaysia, the Lill-Babs Learning Centre seeks to transform a bleak future for Bajau Laut children to one of bright promise. Set up by a local NGO, the Borneo Child Aid Society, the “school” is one of 112 UNICEF-supported learning centres in Sabah and Sarawak for Malaysian and immigrant children in plantations and towns who are unable to access basic education because of distance, poverty or legal status.

UNICEF’s financial support in 2010 will enable the Borneo Child Aid to provide education for 1,000 plantation children as well as enhance the learning experience for some 9,000 children in Sabah and Sarawak through mini-libraries and the ASTRO educational channel at all 112 learning centres.

The project is one of many supported by UNICEF to help Malaysia in its efforts to achieve the second MDG of universal primary education, with all school-age children completing six years of learning.

“By investing in education for marginalised and vulnerable children, UNICEF is laying the foundation for growth, transformation, opportunity and equality so children like Ina can craft their own choices for an independent future full of opportunities,” Mr. Olsen affirmed.


International Literacy Day
International Literacy Day is observed on 8 September every year to remind the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. This annual observance provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to literacy and education, as well as to highlight the underlying factors leading to disparities in achieving universal literacy. The Day is an opportunity for all governments, NGOs and the media to demonstrate their support in keeping literacy high on national, regional and international agendas.

UNICEF’s Education Programs in Malaysia
UNICEF’s education programs are guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, supporting the inherent belief that all children have the right to free and compulsory primary education. UNICEF is investing in research, training, software and resource development as well as infrastructure in Malaysia to both improve the quality of education and enable marginalised children to attend school. In 2010, UNICEF is working in partnership with the Ministry of Education to support initiatives in Early Childhood Development; Supplementary Reading Programs for students in rural and remote areas in Sabah and Sarawak; the Individual Education Plan for students with disabilities; and training for the Education for All program. UNICEF is also working with the Sabah Teacher Foundation, Sabah Task Force and Sabah State Education Department to provide basic education for refugee, undocumented and stateless children in Kota Kinabalu.

For more information, please contact:

Indra Kumari Nadchatram
UNICEF Media Malaysia
Tel +6012 292 6872,

Juana Jaafar
UNICEF Media Malaysia
Tel + 6012 530 9693,





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Newsline: Literacy Day 2010

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