Teaching Digital Literacy to Stateless Youths

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Teaching Digital Literacy to Stateless Youths

Nasalia Latiff
May 26, 2023

Nasalia Latiff

Nasalia combines the art of selling with the science of digital marketing, making her a shining star in the field. Her creative mind and smart plans illuminate the marketing landscape at once.

February 23, 2024

Picture yourself in Sabah, a captivating state nestled in East Malaysia on the enchanting island of Borneo. Here, a heart-wrenching reality grips the region—Sabah holds the unfortunate title of having the highest rate of statelessness in the entire country. Among the stateless individuals, a staggering 50% are vibrant and hopeful youths under the age of 21. While the exact figures remain elusive, we're looking at hundreds of thousands of young souls left in limbo. This precarious situation of statelessness in Sabah is a complex geopolitical issue that defies simple categorization. 

It's important to note that not all stateless children are born to Indonesian or Filipino parents. Surprisingly, even children born to families residing in the rural villages of Sabah find themselves without proper identification documents, simply because birth certificates and identity cards hold little importance in their communities. The gravity of the situation is clear: parents are often unaware of the necessity to register their child's birth. In Malaysia, primary education is compulsory for all youths, with most progressing through 11 years of schooling. However, this privilege remains elusive for children without a birth certificate.

But why is digital literacy such a crucial lifeline for these stateless youths? Let's delve into the profound impact it can have on their lives.

According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), a staggering 90.7% of stateless children in Sabah are unable to access pre-primary education. This denial of early education deprives these young minds of the fundamental building blocks needed to lead stable lives in the future. Left to the hands of compassionate volunteers and community members, stateless youths receive a mere three hours of schooling per day in informal schools and learning centers. Many of these youths also have jobs to help their families make ends meet, despite being just children. For instance, we met a 12-year-old girl who went to school in the morning and worked as a waitress in the afternoon and evening. She would have been preparing for UPSR if only she had a birth certificate. 

The sad reality is that more than one in three children drop out of school because of financial reasons (UNICEF, 2019). However, digital literacy can provide stateless youths with the tools they need to overcome these obstacles. The internet empowers and enables them to access opportunities beyond their reach. In the virtual world, the only identity they need is an email address. The virtual world empowers stateless youths, offering them opportunities that extend beyond their physical confines. "All that these students need is digital literacy and a bit of confidence, and they'll be rocking the show," remarked Gurpreet Singh, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Me.reka, with unwavering optimism.

During the scoping mission, we also learned that teaching stateless youths skills that will allow them to earn more is vital to alleviate poverty and provide them with a real chance at life. By equipping these youths with digital literacy skills, we can uplift them, breaking the chains of poverty and opening doors to a brighter future. Digital literacy empowers stateless youths to access learning materials and embark on self-education journeys, transcending national boundaries and offering job opportunities that are not bound by nationality or borders. Moreover, digital literacy fosters a sense of community contribution, enabling these resilient youths to make their mark in society. A comprehensive national digital education gives children access to the breadth of the world, no matter their background (Smith, 2016).

“Once you know how to use digital resources, the world is your oyster!” proclaimed Gurpreet Singh, “The uncertainty of the future and safety of the stateless children hinders self-confidence and [discourages them] from having an ambition. We were exposed to the children’s talents and skills through this course, watching them showcase their learning and understanding of digital trade tools and tricks,” said Kathryn Rivai, the founder of Matakana Learning Centre in Beaufort, Sabah.

The 'Digital Literacy Class' in the Matakana Learning Centre began with exposing the students to the perks of a Google account and its various applications, as well as its Google Drive storage space. We then utilized the youths' familiarity with social media to teach them how to form online businesses to generate income. They learned to shift their interest from consuming content on social media to creating content for social media. Through social media marketing, they learned to use storytelling to create quality content to reach their desired target audience. Using platforms like Canva, students explored and developed graphic design skills. 

The highlight of the Digital Literacy classes was their Capstone Project, where students raised RM 75,000 to build a digital hub and the infrastructure needed to support it at Matakana Learning Center, using the skills they learned in the course. Despite never using a touchpad or a physical keyboard before, the students showcased tremendous advancements throughout the 100-hours Digital Literacy course. Me.reka’s 100-hours Digital Literacy course’s crucial achievement is opening up an entire universe of opportunities to self-educate. The youths learned to obtain answers for all their questions through Google and Youtube - giving them unobstructed access to knowledge, know-how’s, expertise and skills, thus providing them with access to more dedicated learning portals such as Google Classroom.

Me.reka recognises that teaching digital literacy will not provide an immediate solution to stateless children, youth, and families’ complex geopolitical issues. It will need countries to come together and solve these decades-long issues. However, digital literacy enables them to earn a dignified income, regardless of where they are - even if they face the risk of getting deported. 


United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. (2019). Children Out of School: The Sabah Context. UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/malaysia/media/921/file/Out%20of%20School%20children%20%20(OOSCI)%20Accessible%20version.pdf

Sander, F. G., & Pui, S. Y. (2015, January 30). How to narrow the gap between the rich and poor in Malaysia? World Bank. https://blogs.worldbank.org/eastasiapacific/how-narrow-gap-between-rich-and-poor-malaysia

Smith, L. (2016, October 11). The Importance of Digital Literacy for Children Worldwide. BORGEN. https://www.borgenmagazine.com/digital-literacy-for-children/

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