The Refugee-Community School – Al-Aliyah International School (AIS) A Narrative By Rosalind Ahju

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ECE Senior Lecturer, HELP University

  The first AIS school was set up in 2018 that caters to children aged 4- to 16-year-old.

Al-Aliyah International School (AIS) is a non-profit Refugee-Community initiative to open up a school located in Gombak for the children of refugees. The school is a Rohingya family-based centre that works towards a holistic and sustainable educational model. The school aims to increase the quality and living standard of the Rohingya community through education. The idea began in 2017 when a group of Rohingya leaders requested to set up a school in their community to provide basic education to their children. The leaders secured a multi-purpose hall of a local mosque for English classes in the morning and a Quran class in the afternoon.

The first AIS community school started operation in 2018 with a total number of 28 students funded by a group of Singaporean volunteers. The school has three multiple age groups of preschool (4- to 8-year-old), lower primary (8- to 12-year-old), and higher primary classes (10- to 16-year-old) facilitated by two permanent staff Ms. Sara Seah, a HELP international student, and Ms. Majidah, an Indonesian teacher. They were assisted by volunteers, mostly from Singapore who came during the holidays to teach the basics of reading and writing in English.

Children attending classes

Children are having snacks by the corridor.

I was involved with AIS in early 2019 through a research project led by Dr. Jennifer Tan from the Education Department of HELP University. My first experience with the school was eye- opening. It was different from the preschools I have worked with before. Three different age groups were seated on the floor studying and writing on a wooden plank supported by two stools. There was no partition, chairs, or tables. For lessons, a small whiteboard was placed in the mosques’ hallway and the children were crowded around it. During snack time, the children sat on the floor of the corridor eating a packet of fried noodles or Nasi Lemak.

I could never forget the smiles on their faces as they laughed and played in such a challenging environment. This was a place for them to play, to shelter themselves from possible abusive parents, to get a cheap meal, to get basic healthcare, and to learn to read and write in English. And for the girls, it was a place they finally had an opportunity to be educated. Most importantly, it was a place where every child could voice their thoughts and opinions and be respected as an individual.

A school is a playground, a petting zoo, a clinic, and a learning centre that girls are allowed to attend.

In May 2019, I conducted a project called “From Garden to Table” that mobilized primary school children aged between 8- to 16-year-olds to plant vegetables around the school. The older children were divided into four groups with a small plot of planting ground and they were provided some seeds. They demonstrated great enthusiasm in making their crops grow and were expected to be harvested within a month. However, the project was not able to complete on time due to poor teamwork among the group members. The children continued caring for their crops and harvested vegetables even when I stopped visiting them.

I am proud of what the children were able to achieve, and each child has ignited their hidden potential by participating and continuing their efforts in growing the vegetables. They even cooked a farewell lunch for us. The honorary Principal, Mr. Ibrahim, was very happy with the outcome of this project and requested me to start another project to plant and rear fish in the school.

In May 2020, seven students from the Diploma in Early Childhood (DECE) Programme at HELP University conducted their community services at the refugee community school for two months. The community service required the DECE students to set up the rabbit hatchery in a preschool and share what they learned from the program with the teacher. The DECE students team consisted of the team leader, Celene Tang, together with Lianne Chong, Bak San, Hee Pei Ying, Kau Hui Lin, Beatrice Leong, and Then Ching Ni. They gained popularity among the community preschool.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, lessons went online. The children showed good progress in English, being able to respond to simple instructions, and writing words in proper formation.

The onsite team from left to right: Lianne, Celene, Bak San, Rosalind, Hana, and Munira.

Online teachers: Beatrice (top left), Pei Ying (top right), Hui Lin (bottom left), and Cing Ni (bottom right).

The community service projects and activities created a safe place for pre-schoolers to play and learn. Many of the children were involved actively in creating the planting area in the preschool. Unfortunately, the school was closed again due to another lockdown in August 2020, and this deprived the children of the opportunity to use the place for learning.

My passion for working with these refugee children did not stop during the MCO. Later in December 2020, I sent more than 100 child-size chairs, branches, tables, school uniforms, toys, exercise books, stationaries, large whiteboards, and display boards to the AIS. These facilities were estimated at a value of RM $17,000. They were donated by Puan Farah, the CEO of a preschool formally known as Tadika Diyana, TTDI. This generous donation obviously contributed towards the improved quality of the school and its classroom environment.

In June 2021, I gathered four more HELP University students, Kau Hui Lin, Denise Lim, Syedah Nashrah, and Fadhilah from the Education and Languages programs to be a part of the online teaching team. 2021 was another turning point for AIS. Many Rohingya communities from other states in Malaysia had come approached the NGO to request their assistance to set up community schools in their areas.

Two new schools were set up at the end of 2021 and early 2022 in Muar and Sg. Buluh with six to ten children enrolled. These community schools are currently being run by two AIS student- leaders. Many female students who left the community school are still closely in contact with the

AIS’s headteacher Ms. Sara Seah and they offered themselves as the student-leaders to tutor new students in the new schools.

Muar community school runs by a volunteer teacher.

Sg. Buluh community school runs by a student-leader.

AIS is now highly regarded by many Rohingya communities, and the NGO has continuously received requests for setting up community schools. Despite the shortage of financial support and volunteers, the passion burns bright for making education accessible to all. AIS and the Rohingya communities have motivated me to continue my role as the ambassador of HELP University among the Rohingya community schools in supporting these children to claim their right to education. I hope that my narration about my service to the Rohingya children will reach a bigger group of audience and bring forth more educational opportunities that will someday transform the lives of these children.

Professor Doctor Goh Lay Huah, Head of the ECE Department said, “The work of our staff in the refugee community school reflects the passion of our staff to make education accessible to all. The ECE staff and students of HELP University are ambassadors among the Rohingya community schools in supporting these children to claim their right to education. We hope that raising awareness about the Rohingya children will reach a bigger group of audience and bring forth more educational opportunities that will someday transform the lives of these children.”

About HELP University’s Diploma & Bachelor of Early Childhood Education Degree Programme:

HELP University therefore developed the Diploma in Early Childhood Education (DECE) and a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education (BECE) for those who have a love and passion for teaching children. These are highly sought after programmes for those interested in pursuing a career in working with children.

Apart from being a stand-alone qualification enabling graduates to work in preschools, the DECE qualifies holders to enter directly into Year 2 of the BECE programme at HELP.

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programmes at HELP University are more than just a preparation for the early years of schooling. It nurtures and prepares the Educator-Carers to contribute to the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and well-being.

The ECCE programmes prepares the Educator-Carer with the knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, and attitudes and values in distinctively ECCE domains namely through emphasizing aspects of safety and security, and hygiene and health in the nurturing of children. The programmes also trains the Educator-Carer to partner and work closely with parents to monitor and assess the child’s progress through reports and the maintenance of proper records.

It also gives a personal and professional identity to graduates and equips them with the capability to play a role as a crucial link between children, families, and the community by developing the necessary social and communication skills needed for such engagements.

The ECCE programmes at HELP provides the Educator-Carer with a firm grounding in specific areas: an exceptionally strong foundation in the social and psychological understanding of the child; developing the creativity and talents of Educator-Carers across multiple ECCE settings and scenarios through the arts, drama, music and movement; balanced preparation for work in any preschool setting as a result of the 12 to 16-week workplace practicum and empirical based course and fieldwork; and an opportunity to learn and improve their English Language proficiency through specialist courses in English.

The strength of the programmes lies in its approach to Teaching and Learning. Besides lectures and tutorials, classes are conducted in the Learning Simulation Lab where fieldwork and empirical studies that highlight the importance of experiential engagement are carried out with children. This is premised on the fact that the most effective learning takes place through direct experience.

From left to right: (1) children clearing their planting plot; (2) cucumber and green bean seedlings; (3) experimenting hydroponic with Kang Kong; and (4) a boy is watering the crops after school.

An advantage for HELP University students who are studying the Early Childhood programmes, is that they are able to access the facilities and resources in HELP International School (HIS) which is located next to the university’s Subang 2 campus.

HIS is one of the best international schools in Malaysia and in 2018 among 8 schools shortlisted by the Times Education Supplement (TES) to be in the running for the International School of the year award. HIS has a truly talented, experienced, and international team of teachers with an enlightened programme for nurturing Educator-Carers during their 8-week teaching practice and practicum that is a compulsory part of their professional preparation. HIS offers the best kind of teacher training and education hub where best practices are taught and learned.

HELP’s Early Childhood Education programmes sets out to train early childhood educators to be passionate and committed about the work of educating and caring for children. There are two Practicum periods in the programme. The first involves an 6 to 8-week placement in a Nursery, followed by another 6 to 8-weeks in a Preschool, when they are in the final semester of their programmes. For the duration of the practicum, students are expected to complete a stipulated number of hours and lessons based on criteria set by the university’s Department of Education.

Working adults who wish to enroll in the Early Childhood programmes but do not meet the minimum entry requirements, can consult the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) to see if they qualify for the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL). APEL enables individuals who have work experience, but do not have the formal academic qualifications to pursue a degree. It recognizes the work experience and other courses and programmes of these candidates, and awards academic credits towards their degree.

For more information on HELP University’s Early Childhood Education programmes, please visit our university website, www.help.edu.my, or email us at marketing@help.edu.my

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