Since I have been at MSRI, my main role has been acting as a kind of administrative assistant to the Sahabat Support Centre School (SSC) and the School Manager. I print books, make curriculums, make student lists, help organize activities, and educational support to address student needs. By far though, the most wonderful parts of the position are the frequent visits next door to the school itself. Within the three-level-office-building-turned-educational facility, like any school, are endlessly dynamic and complicated tiny humans that insist it was not really their fault that the sink broke off the wall. Really, it wasn’t.
Here though, in the realm of communication our school becomes very unique. When students try to explain themselves; why they are crying, why their friend is crying, why they cannot go to class, how the sink fell off the wall – there is a literal loss for words. In particular, there’s a loss for English words. Due to the diverse backgrounds of each child, the school administration has established a streamlined language for everyone to follow, this attempt to be linguistically inclusive is the complex and exception-riddled English language. In classrooms filled with Farsi, Arabic, Dari, Urdu, Somali, and French – English is established as the common denominator due to this expansively diverse environment.
English becomes not only the most convenient way to align the students, teachers, and facilitators but the most necessary way. The school’s purpose is to offer education to refugees and migrants within Malaysia; a demographic seeking resettlement, primarily in English-speaking countries. The primacy of English in the SSC School is an attempt to equip its students for their future – it is to serve the purpose of all educational facilities.
Each child’s, so far short, but individual history ensures that many different English levels will be found in one class. Just as you might find in any education, activity, practice; each child has a different ability and strength in picking up languages. The teachers themselves have varying degrees of English, all of them practicing it as their second, third, or even sixth language. On the one hand, there a huge number of people experiencing this generally complicated and unclear world at some of the most complicated and unclear ages – in particular, adolescence. Whether or not we are fluent in a language, we may not find it in ourselves to be able to express, let alone understand, our thoughts or feelings. To address this mutually external and internal struggle, a tightknit and highly involved educational environment, or community really, has grown.
The interaction of varying linguistic abilities creates an incredible dynamic of support between teachers and students. Whether it is during a lesson, or to solve your standard elementary school, lunchtime argument, everyone is constantly practicing a system of language cooperation. In class, students with a better grasp on English and the topic being taught, request to explain what is happening to those which they know may not understand at all. Students, teachers and administrators translate for each other so that each party has the opportunity to be understood. Throughout most of my own educational experience, there was a degree of expectation that things can be individually practiced and then understood. Something not necessarily discussed in class but occurring constantly are lessons of human interaction, or communication. Here, these lessons, along with math and science lessons, are distinct throughout the day, relying on teams and cooperative support, because without them not one person knows what is really going on. Things happen slower sometimes (most of the time), but they happen together.