“For me, it’s the moments outside of traditional curriculum that I find can be the most powerful. I realise I must be biased when I think of how extraordinary my own students are, but I know they are not alone in their passion for learning, their work ethic and their sincerity. Education for people like them matters to me, and that’s what Sky School focuses on providing at a global scale.”
Sky School is thrilled to have Aayesha as a Course Leader and member of our team of educators and collaborators. Bringing with her a wealth of knowledge regarding education, and more specifically, refugee education gained from working with Rohingya refugee youth in Malaysia, Aayesha has quickly proven herself an invaluable member of the Sky School family. As an alumna of UWCSEA, Sky School’s partner school, she understands the inherent value education carries, and has made it her life’s work to impart this human right to those so deeply in need of access to it.
As a self-described “third culture kid”, Aayesha, whose parents are Sri Lankan, was born in France but spent most of her life in Singapore (where she attended UWCSEA Kindergarten through grade 12), which is her official nationality. While there are inarguable benefits to being the product of such an upbringing, including the ability to identify with a multitude of people and being multilingual, it comes with inherent challenges as well: being in a near constant state of adjustment, acclamation and assimilation. These challenges were the catalyst for Aayesha strongly identifying with her Rohingya refugee students, and in turn, them making a tremendous impact on her life as an educator and advocate.
Prior to moving to Johor, Malaysia and working with Rohingya students, Aayesha was pursuing a diploma in Montessori Education and working at a Montessori school in Singapore. In continuation of her studies, once in Malaysia she began volunteering as a teacher for the NGO Cahaya Surya Bakti (CSB), working with Rohingya refugees, an experience that would both change her life and frame her future. “I have the privilege of working every day with truly inspiring kids and letting their integrity guide and motivate me in my life,” said Aayesha.
“When I started in the Rohingya school it was the first time I had been in a school environment where the students shared my faith and looked like me (coming from the same regional background).” This commonality paved the way for what would develop into a deep bond for Aayesha and her students, for having grown up with several identities and having to be able to navigate each depending on circumstances and surroundings, she could sympathize with their current experiences feeling like outsiders in a foreign place.
“Even though they had their community, I recognized that they were navigating a world in which they were a minority in so many ways, and I know what complexes that can lead to. It has been so important to me to be a part of [them] building a strong sense of cultural identity so that my students could be proud of their roots, heritage, beliefs etc. without being self-conscious and apologetic about any of the things that define them.”
Drawing on her own experience growing up in spaces where she felt like the anomaly at times, she was able to apply this understanding to what her Rohingya students were going through as they transitioned to life in a different country where their culture was on the periphery. To highlight this experience, Aayesha shared a beautiful story.
“Mother tongue is another area I’ve really pushed at with the students. For example in Islamic studies, I started looking at excerpts from the Qur’an with them – and for each Arabic verse I gave them I also added translations in the 3 languages they were fluent in – English, Malay and Rohingya. With one class, they had never seen Rohingyan written before. I asked them to guess what the third language was and someone said Spanish. Then I asked them to read it out. As they were sounding it out they realised they understood it because it was their language! Their faces of excitement in that moment of realisation really stuck with me, their language was there side by side with the languages they are always being told are more important. Now they are very much used to seeing their language being written and trying to write in it themselves.”
Upon hearing about Sky School’s work through CSB and UWC, Aayesha realized her passion for refugee education intersected perfectly with Sky School’s mission and she quickly became involved in our work. She applied to become the course leader for the course, “Living Peace and Wellbeing”, for which she facilitated a hackathon in Singapore in June, where she was joined by a dynamic group of collaborators.
Aayesha described her vision for the course by saying, “I want to see learners explore the way they see themselves and others, take agency over their sense of identity and practice empathy and being intentional in the choices they make and the impact they have.”
Aayesha has since moved on from her work with CSB and her Rohingya students, but her pursuit of creating worthwhile educational opportunities for her students is just beginning. She and a team are currently leading a project called 'Rohingya Eskul', intended to preserve and promote learning of the Rohingya language throughout their global diaspora. Aayesha also intends to stay involved in Sky School's transformational curriculum development and looks forward to participating further in Sky School centres around the world.