Bangladesh permits education for Rohingya children

Government U-turn on schooling in camps gets thumbs-up from refugees, rights groups and charities
Bangladesh permits education for Rohingya children

Rohingya children study at an informal education center run by Caritas Bangladesh at Kutupalong refugee camp in 2017. Bangladesh’s government has decided to allow formal education for Rohingya in camps. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

Bangladesh’s government has decided to allow formal education for Rohingya children in refugee camps in a move warmly welcomed by refugees, rights activists and charities.

“We don’t want a lost generation of Rohingya. We want them to have education. They will follow Myanmar curricula,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told AFP news agency on Jan. 28.

The decision was made in a meeting of the state-appointed high-level national taskforce, the minister said.

The government and the UN’s children’s agency, UNICEF, are collaborating to design the curricula and a pilot project for schooling some 10,000 children will be launched soon, media reported.

The children will get education up to the age of 14 and then have training in vocational trades.

The move shows a change of heart by the ruling Awami League government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and will have immensely positive impacts on tens of thousands of Rohingya children in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar district in southeast Bangladesh.

Authorities had barred Rohingya children from getting formal education using Bangladesh and Myanmar curricula in the camps. They also ordered the expulsion of dozens of Rohingya children from local schools on grounds that they were ineligible for education as refugees.

About one million Rohingya Muslims, almost half of them children, live in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Cox’s Bazar. Most fled deadly military crackdowns in Rakhine state of Myanmar in 2016 and 2017.

In the absence of formal education, some Rohingya children received basic primary education in child-friendly spaces operated by UNICEF and other charities in the camps, while many started visiting madrasas run by Islamic groups, raising fears about the vulnerability of children to radicalism.

Abdur Rahim, 50, a Rohingya father of four from Kutupalong refugee camp, hailed the decision.

“We are extremely happy and grateful that Bangladesh’s government has allowed formal education for our children. For a long time we have requested the government to permit education for Rohingya children, which was not allowed, so only some children got some informal education in centers run by NGOs,” Rahim, a member of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, told UCA News.

Rahim, a high school teacher from Buthidaung town in Rakhine, fled to Bangladesh in late August 2017 to escape military atrocities. He is now settled in Kutupalong camp with his wife and four children — a son, 18, and three daughters aged 17, 15 and 8. His son completed grade 10 back in Myanmar.

“I am hopeful that our next generation — our sons and daughters — will be able to get formal education and have a better future. We are grateful to Bangladesh and charity groups for being sympathetic and saving our children from getting lost,” Rahim added.

The government’s decision is incredibly good news, said James Gomes, regional director of Catholic charity Caritas Chittagong, which operates in Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar.

“This is a great decision. Education for Rohingya children was an urgent need and now the government has taken really a positive decision to fill the gaps. We believe Rohingya will go back to their homeland one day, and they will take the education and training with them,” Gomes, a Catholic, told UCA News.

Caritas has advocated allowing formal education for Rohingya children over the years, he said.

Like UNICEF and other charities, Caritas has been running child-friendly spaces in the camps to offer basic education.

“We believed that without education Rohingya children cannot have a future, so we have advocated for formal education and got prepared for it,” Gomes said.

Caritas will launch two formal education centers in Camp 1E and Camp 3 in Kutupalong from early February

“We have collected the primer for education and are in the process of appointing teachers for centers,” Gomes added.

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