Learning and Teaching Together; a model for Refugee Education Partnership

Service is, for me, not an opportunity to “rescue” or to “bring others up”. It is a path of joy and growth, hopefully for everyone involved. Not as givers and receivers but as friends, partners, collaborators and fellow travellers “walking each other home”, as Ram Dass so aptly stated.

I was given another opportunity to travel this path in 2017, when my friend Gwen mentioned to me that there was a refugee center near our neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur that was asking for help with teacher training, since many of the educators there were (and are) volunteers with no background in teaching, pedagogy or curriculum. In this case, the refugee center was a small school set up by an Afghani refugee community for their children.

In 2019, there were approximately 129,000 refugees residing in Malaysia compared to around 81.5 thousand in 2010. (1) At last count, “there are some 45,980 children below the age of 18.” (2) Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, thus refugee children in Malaysia are not allowed to access public education. This has led to many communities setting up small schools to try to give their children the best education they can obtain.

At the time, I was teaching at the International School of Kuala Lumpur, working alongside some of the best teachers in the world. The answer seemed self-evident: of course we could share some of the experience and knowledge we had amongst us. So I asked a few friends to join me on a Saturday, and we went to the little townhouse serving as the school and worked with the community teachers for the afternoon. We shared classroom management tools, math and science resources, and some curriculum design strategies. We then shared a delicious meal of Afghani food, filling our bellies since our hearts were already full, and our minds as well!

I am thrilled to say that this afternoon of joy and sharing has become something much bigger!! By 2019, the program ‘Teachers Training Teachers’ had grown and flourished: workshops were held every other Saturday for two hours in a larger refugee education center run by the Malaysian Social Research Institute, so we could teach up to four simultaneous classes. Sessions covered myriad topics, such as math, science, movement, art, music, administration, classroom management, early childhood development, and more. Teachers from community schools represented many countries, including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Pakistan.

And now, despite the strains that the pandemic has added to the delivery of the training program, the “TTT” is going strong, working with over 150 educators every 2 weeks, from many different community centers around Kuala Lumpur. Via Zoom during the “Movement Control Orders”, teachers from ISKL continued to meet with community teachers, working together to overcome the new challenges brought on by COVID19 while continuing to make progress on regular curriculum and pedagogic training. You can find out more about the program from this brief article: https://www.iskl.edu.my/teachers-teaching-teachers/

Not only could this model be used with other schools in Kuala Lumpur, I believe it could be replicated with international schools worldwide — wouldn’t that be a path so wide and smooth that we could all walk each other home with such joy and ease?

My role at Orenda Learning is another way in which I walk this path; it is a joy to bring more students and teachers towards heartfelt, reciprocal, mutually beneficial and respectful service through our Be The Change program, and I am proud and lucky to be a part of this work.

By Suji DeHart

www.orendalearning.com & www.bethechange-service.com

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