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Saturday, 26 November 2016 00:00

Restructuring of Academic System Promotes Growth in Refugee Children

Written by  Tang Choon Chow, Chua Chong Sing & Wee Suan Yean, KL & Selangor / Translated by Tai Ren Yin

UNHCR Tzu-Chi Education Centre organized the annual Prize Giving-cum-Graduation Ceremony at KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]

On November 26, 2016, UNHCR Tzu-Chi Education Centre held its annual Prize Giving-cum-Graduation Ceremony at the KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall. Early that morning, loud echoes of the National Anthem could be heard from the hall where 476 students and teachers gathered, marking the opening of the Ceremony. Everyone was familiar with the melody and lyrics of the local National Anthem despite differences in identity, as if signifying that everyone deserves the opportunity to receive education.


Lessons on humanities for character shaping

Representatives from the Harmony and Unity Centres in Selayang and Ampang respectively, performed the song, “Pull the Radish”, in lively body movements and fluent Mandarin. The adorable actions amused the audience. After a series of performances, the children thanked their teachers in fluent Mandarin: “You taught us to read and write, and to be courteous. Thank you teachers, we will be good and well-disciplined students. Teachers, we love you!” These sweet words warmed the hearts of all present. With the introduction of the Chinese language class to the lower grades, the children have picked up an additional language skill in addition to English and Malay.

Lim Choy Kim, a retired Headmaster and member of Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association said, “Jing Si Aphorisms are very life-oriented; and they have proven to be a kind of energy. In order to allow the students to get a better understanding of the aphorisms, we decided to start teaching Mandarin from the lower grades.” Faced with an uncertain future and unstable life, the refugee children often find it hard to cope emotionally. In view of this, he and his team began to introduce a Mandarin Class and teach Jing Si Aphorisms from the lower grades. This also serves to improve the character education.

Besides the performance in Mandarin, representatives from both centres also presented a dance, Jing Si Aphorism drama, small play, and other performances, adding a lot of joy to the atmosphere. The wonderful performances were like a showcase of the semester’s learning outcomes made possible thanks to the collective efforts and commitments towards education by the retired Headmasters and teachers of Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association.

The joyous fruit of a difficult journey

Dr Foo Seay Liang, Head of Tzu Chi KL & Selangor’s Medical Mission, was entrusted with the responsibility of managing the UNHCR Tzu-Chi Education Centre since 2016. Without a clue about managing schools, he was reunited with his primary school teacher, Choy Kim, with help from Echo Chien, CEO of Tzu Chi KL & Selangor. They then worked together with some retired teachers, who are members of Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association, to work out a better blueprint for the refugee students’ education.

Choy Kim shared that when reviewing the Centre’s teaching method, they noticed that it reduced the effectiveness in the students’ learning. He felt that the teaching time should be reduced from the original two hours per subject to the current one hour, so that the teachers could maximize time efficiency in passing on knowledge and save some time for other purposes.
    
In addition, the team also organized training programmes for those teachers who were not formally trained, helped organize the administrative work, shared with the teachers on creating test questions and shared resources using computer technologies. Faced with the sudden change and restructuring of the academic system, the teachers, who had taught in the Centre for about seven years, struggled to adapt. The team accompanied them with empathy, patiently explained and demonstrated the new approach, and finally, got the teachers’ acceptance and cooperation.

Teacher Juvita Karmini informed that when Dr Foo suggested a list of restructuring, the teachers found it difficult to follow, especially when a lot of the administrative work requires the use of a computer. It was difficult for Juvita, who has no knowledge of computer usage. However, for the benefit of the children, Juvita persevered and cooperated. Now, she is starting to get used to the new approach, and appreciates the electronic filing and archiving, which would come in handy for future usage and resource sharing with the Unity Centre. Juvita is happy that the children could learn an additional language, and feels that the teaching of Jing Si Aphorisms has helped the children greatly.

Teaching with love evoked kindness

Dr Foo said, “This is the ninth Graduation Ceremony co-organized by Tzu Chi and UNHCR. It is a little different this year. With their teaching experience accumulated over the years, teachers from the Teachers’ Association have improved the curriculum of the refugee children. The class duration has increased from the original two hours per day to four hours. In addition to that, we have strengthened the Jing Si Aphorism teaching, and added music, drawing and physical education classes to the syllabus.”

“Due to limited resources in the past, these children would stop schooling upon completion of Primary 6 education. However, starting from last year, we have been helping those who had completed their primary school education to find suitable secondary schools to allow them to continue with their studies. When some students faced transportation issues, the teachers from the Teachers’ Association took turns to send them to and from schools (on public transport) for three months continuously. This is to ensure that the students are able to take up some skills and pave the way for their future, hoping that they are able to grow in their own capabilities and contribute to society one day.”

When Choy Kim noticed that there were many over-aged children amongst the students, he and his team immediately sought solutions to quicken their process of completing primary school education, and arrange for them to attend secondary school. Eighteen-year-old Juwaidiah bte Tun Myit, who had just completed her primary school education this year, was one of the students who missed the opportunity to further her studies as she had exceeded the age limit for enrolment into Ideas Academy for secondary school education. Feeling sorry for her, Choy Kim paid even more attention on the progress of other over-aged students.

Unable to continue her studies, Juwaidiah plans to work to help with household expenses. Graduation was like a dream to her, and she was happy but reluctant to leave the teachers who love her. Having transferred from another school, she felt the environment of this Centre is different. The teachers do not just focus on teaching, they also care for the students. Through the teachings of Jing Si Aphorisms, Juwaidiah has learnt to collaborate with others, leave behind arrogance and do more kindness.

Repay companionship with respect and love

Tan Guat Kooi is a member of the Teachers’ Association and a retired teacher, who had taught for 33 years. Last year, in response to Dr Foo’s call, she returned to teaching. Today, the sweet action of the children presenting to the teachers origami lucky stars they had folded, moved Guat Kooi to tears. She felt that her contribution was too little to mention, and is thankful for the contributions of the current teachers and volunteers, giving the feeling of love and education opportunity to the children.

Guat Kooi believes that only through education can the children and their families’ livelihood change. Without education, there is no hope. With a year of hard work, Guat Kooi noticed that the children have become more polite and grateful, and would hug the teachers and look forward to the Jing Si Aphorism classes every Thursday. Once, there was a child who, after eating a packet of “nasi lemak” (rice cooked in coconut milk) the teacher bought for the students, bought another packet of rice to offer to his peer, saying that it was his way of reciprocating kindness. The caring and thoughtful acts of the children, and their innocent smiles, made Guat Kooi to feel that everything she had done was worth the effort.



Progressing from kindergarten, primary school, secondary school to university may look like a natural education process for a child, but it is a luxury for the refugee children. The collaboration in education between Tzu Chi and UNHCR has brought colours into the children’s learning path. Besides academic knowledge, the Centre also emphasizes on character shaping. It is hoped that the seeds of love planted in the hearts of these children will blossom and make this world a better place.

Student representatives from UNHCR Tzu-Chi Education Centre in Selayang and Ampang performed the song, “Pull the Radish” in lively body movements and fluent Mandarin. [Photograph by Look Foot Seong]   Small play brought much joy to the atmosphere of the Ceremony. [Photograph by Teng Pick Cheang]

Student representatives from UNHCR Tzu-Chi Education Centre in Selayang and Ampang performed the song, “Pull the Radish” in lively body movements and fluent Mandarin. [Photograph by Look Foot Seong]
 
Small play brought much joy to the atmosphere of the Ceremony. [Photograph by Teng Pick Cheang]
 
The wonderful performances captivated the audience. It was made possible thanks to the joint efforts of a group of retired Headmasters and teachers from the Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]   In 2016, Dr Foo Seay Liang worked together with a group of retired teachers to create plans to improve the learning of the refugee students. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]

The wonderful performances captivated the audience. It was made possible thanks to the joint efforts of a group of retired Headmasters and teachers from the Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]
 
 
In 2016, Dr Foo Seay Liang worked together with a group of retired teachers to create plans to improve the learning of the refugee students. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]
 
Lim Choy Kim, member of Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association, introduced Mandarin class and the teaching of Jing Si Aphorisms in the lower grades. [Photograph by Teng Pick Cheang]   Teacher Juvita had difficulties following the series of academic system restructuring. However, she has persevered for the benefit of the children. Now, she is getting used to the new teaching approach. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]

Lim Choy Kim, member of Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association, introduced Mandarin class and the teaching of Jing Si Aphorisms in the lower grades. [Photograph by Teng Pick Cheang]
 
 
Teacher Juvita had difficulties following the series of academic system restructuring. However, she has persevered for the benefit of the children. Now, she is getting used to the new teaching approach. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]
 
Eighteen-year-old Juwiadiah, who had just completed her primary school education, missed the opportunity to continue her studies because she had exceeded the age limit for enrolment into a secondary school. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]   Tzu Chi and UNHCR collaborated in education, working together to allow the refugee children a better future.[Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]

Eighteen-year-old Juwiadiah, who had just completed her primary school education, missed the opportunity to continue her studies because she had exceeded the age limit for enrolment into a secondary school. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]
 
 
Tzu Chi and UNHCR collaborated in education, working together to allow the refugee children a better future.[Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]