By Jason Spierings, CandleLighters Volunteer

Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending the Ideas Academy Class of 2018 graduation where 10 refugee students graduated with an international British high school diploma (IGCSE). 

The school started in 2014, and this was the first group to have completed a full high school program. The staff, board, parents, and of course the students, were overjoyed to have reached the momentous milestone. With refugees currently unable to access the Malaysian education system, it was an inspiration for the sector of refugee workers here to see students finishing high school with an internationally recognised certificate.

Some graduating students will access scholarships offered by Malaysian universities to take their studies further, while others will try to find work in Malaysia’s ‘grey economy’.

The Ideas Academy is what’s referred to as an alternative-learning centre in Kuala Lumpur, where the majority of students are from refugee backgrounds. It operates outside the Malaysian public school system. It’s a non-for-profit centre and is privately funded through donations and sponsorships by various sources. The centre is endorsed by UNHCR as a provider of secondary education for refugees. In 2016, Ideas Academy was awarded best secondary education provider for refugees.

The academy focuses exclusively on secondary education and currently has approximately 150 students. It follows the British curriculum used in many international schools, offering the students the opportunity to obtain the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).

The academy has many supporters in Malaysia and internationally, including HOST now that we have provided it with a Little Things grant. However, its main lifeline is the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in Malaysia and the Young Refugee Cause Foundation registered in the Netherlands. Both these organizations are co-founders of the academy.

Students at the academy come from many different countries, including Myanmar, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Kenya.

There were mixed emotions from the graduating students. They were happy to graduate with an internationally recognised high school certificate, but sad that they were leaving the school and the experiences they had shared. Most graduates were hoping to take up the few opportunities available to refugees for tertiary study in Malaysia by using Payong’s Connecting and Equipping Refugees to Tertiary Education (CERTE) program that starts in October. Unfortunately not all will get to go on with their education.

Undoubtedly, whatever paths these young people take, their education at the Ideas Academy will place them in a better position to handle what life throws at them.