A Rohingya boy walks through Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on Sept. 2, 2018. In the absence of adequate education facilities, many Rohingya children face a bleak future. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews)
Hossain Ali, a Rohingya father of five, is happy that two of his children attend schools at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar of southeast Bangladesh.
Ali, 47, a former resident of Buthidaung town in Rakhine State of Myanmar, moved to Bangladesh with his wife and children in 2017.
They were among about one million Rohingya Muslims who fled brutal military crackdowns in Myanmar in 2016 and 2017 and settled in overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.
About 60 percent of refugees are children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Two daughters have been married off since we moved to Bangladesh. One son and one daughter study in grades one and two respectively in a child-friendly space run by an NGO,” Ali told ucanews.
However, Ali is worried about the education and future of his three youngest children, especially his 12-year-old son Rizwan, who does not go to school.
“Rizwan studied up to grade three in Buthidaung, but here in the camp's children can get education only up to grade two. I am worried about his future and for the two younger children because they have to stop schooling after completing grade two,” Ali said.
Muhammad Noor, 34, a father of three from Kutupalong camp, does not know what to do about the education of his two sons, aged 12 and 14.
“In Myanmar they studied up to grade three and four, but they have had no schooling here in the past two years. I am worried about their future,” Noor, a former resident of Maungdaw town in Rakhine, told ucanews.
In the absence of education facilities, Noor recently enrolled his sons in a madrasa in the camp for religious formation, as many Rohingya refugee parents have done.
Analysts fear that without proper schooling and with unchecked religious formation in madrasas, Rohingya children remain vulnerable to radicalization and could become a lost generation.
Rohingya children mill around on top of a hill overlooking Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on Sept. 2, 2018. Analysts fear that without basic education a generation of Rohingya children will be lost in the camps. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews)
Minimal education opportunities
Hundreds of child-friendly spaces are available in refugee camps with support from international and local charities including UNICEF, Save the Children UK and Catholic charity Caritas.
UNICEF directly funds 136 child-friendly spaces that offer education and psycho-social support to children still suffering from trauma related to violence in Myanmar.
A UNICEF-funded child-friendly space provides free basic primary education, following a Myanmar curriculum, up to grade two, which has been approved by Bangladesh’s government.
Caritas runs 11 child-friendly spaces in refugee camps that aim to provide the “essence of learning” to Rohingya children, says Mazharul Islam, head of the Rohingya Response Program at Caritas Chittagong.
“The centers provide facilities for learning and entertainment for primary-level children. Our facilitators, both Bengali and Rohingya volunteers, don’t follow any particular curriculum but provide basic education support to children in Burmese and English,” Islam told ucanews.
Child-friendly spaces provide the only organized system of minimal education for Rohingya children. The government does not permit education of Rohingya outside camps or in Bangladeshi schools on grounds that they are not citizens of the country.
A government order this year saw dozens of Rohingya children expelled from Bangladeshi schools.
A Rohingya mother tries to calm her crying child at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on Sept. 2, 2018. Most Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are school-age children and most don’t have educational opportunities. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews)
Unresolved debates over curriculum
Over the past two years, fearing a generation of lost children without education, Rohingya community leaders and activists have appealed to charities to make efforts to educate children beyond grade two.
However, the issue remains unresolved, largely due to apparent discord over the curriculum to be followed to educate Rohingya children.
Following the 2017 military crackdown and mass exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh, Myanmar’s government banned the use of its curriculum for refugee children, while Bangladesh later banned the use of its curriculum.
UN agencies including UNICEF have been trying to convince authorities in Bangladesh and Myanmar to allow their curriculums to be used by schools in camps.
UNICEF’s country office in Bangladesh did not respond to a ucanews email about progress over providing a curriculum and education for Rohingya children after grade two in camps.
According to the UN mandate, refugee children should be taught either the curriculum of the country of their origin or their host country.
Caritas and its funders are also concerned about the future of Rohingya children without an education, said Islam of Caritas.
“We had a meeting with funding partners and all are concerned. The support we offer now is in line with what the government approves, and we have many things to do for children once the authorities reach a decision and allow us to extend our services,” Islam told ucanews.
The issue of a curriculum for Rohingya children is still on the discussion table, says Mahbub Alam Talukder, head of the state-run Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission.
“It is a complex issue and more deliberation is required. There are problems and lots of things to be considered about whether the curriculum of Myanmar or Bangladesh should be approved. Bangladesh’s government will decide what is most suitable for the refugees,” Talukder told ucanews.
Rohingya Muslims have lived in Rakhine State for centuries. However, a military junta-drafted 1982 Citizenship Act excluded them from citizenship and made them officially stateless.
Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar consider Rohingya to be recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, making them easy targets for abuses and persecution at the hands of successive military governments and radical Buddhists for generations.
In recent decades, Rohingya have trickled into Muslim-majority Bangladesh to escape persecution. But in overpopulated and impoverished Bangladesh, Rohingya are seen as unwelcome guests.