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Education for all, not just citizens

  • Education, for citizens and non-citizens, is not only a human right for the children, but an investment for our future too.

By Azmi Sharom

There is one element of the Malaysian Constitution which is rarely spoken about and I would like to raise it here.

According to international human rights standards, there is a right to free primary education but among the rights listed in Part 2, there is no specific right to education.

In practice, this is not really an issue because in Malaysia there is in fact free primary and secondary education.

So, although it would be nice to have this right enshrined, it is not at the moment absolutely necessary.

There is one problem, however, and that is the fact that free primary and secondary education is only available to citizens. This is actually in line with the Constitution. This is because although the Constitution does not mention a specific right to education, it does state that there is a right to non-discrimination in education (with the exception of affirmative action that is provided for in the Constitution). This is, however, limited only to citizens.

There is a certain logic to this because there are concerns if the government can afford to give free education to all children in the country. However, I think although this may have been the case in 1957, it should not be the case now.

The issue here is that many children slip through the net of education because they are either not citizens or because their parents (and therefore them too) are stateless.

I am uncertain what the numbers of these children are, but I argue that all children must be given a basic education. This is for several reasons. Firstly, why should a child be deprived of education because of his or her parents' status? The child cannot control their immigration status and they are thus being punished for something they can do nothing about. It is not right that their future be denied.

I can hear some people saying but if we give all these non-citizen and stateless kids free education, it will place a strain on our finances.

My answer to that is this. Children of wealthy non-citizens, for example parents who are working in lucrative sectors, will more than likely end up in international or private schools. The kids who are not getting an education are the poor.

By denying them an education we are only depriving them of any chance of self-improvement. This in effect creates an underclass of persons.

How much of our finances will we lose when dealing with such a phenomenon with its implications on social problems and potential crime?

Education, for citizens and non-citizens, is not only a human right for the children, it is also an investment for our future.

(Azmi Sharom is a law lecturer at Universiti Malaya.)



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