Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Refugee Camp had one of highest rates of primary and secondary age children out of school. Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the multilateral global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises, immediately allocated millions to urgently scale up learning spaces for displaced Rohingya children. ECW is preparing an additional multi-year allocation to support continuous learning opportunities for Rohingya children in 2021 and beyond
– Although learning centres in Cox’s Bazar Kutupalong Refugee Camp are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mariom Akhter, a Rohingya mother of four, is grateful not only for the schooling her children have had but the training sessions she as a parent was able to attend. The skills she learnt has helped her assist her children with their education at home in a crisis.
It’s something she’s likely needed to help her children with over the last few weeks after a Mar. 22 fire spread through the camp, destroying the shelters of at least 45,000 people as well as important infrastructure, including hospitals, learning centres, aid distribution points and a registration centre. At least 15 people were reported dead and 400 missing.
“I have learnt many things from the sessions about the education assistance of the children that should be given in any crisis. The sessions played a significant role in ensuring education of the children during this crisis period when all the learning centres are closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” Akhter told IPS before the fire.
In 2017, Bangladesh became host to 1.1 million Rohingya when 750,000 people fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. [Some 300,000 Rohingya had already taken refuge in the country after various insurgencies in earlier years.]
And as families settled in the Cox’s Bazar Kutupalong Refugee Camp, the area had one of highest rates of primary and secondary age children out of school.
As the crisis escalated, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the multilateral global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises, immediately allocated $3 million to urgently scale up learning spaces for displaced Rohingya children. In 2018, the Fund increased its support with an additional $12 million for the continuous learning of refugee and host community children. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, ECW provided partners with an additional $2.1 million to support home-based and distance learning opportunities.
“Since 2017, ECW has continued to prioritise the learning needs and well-being of Rohingya refugees and affected Bangladeshi children in the district of Cox’s Bazar. Yet, with no longer-term solution insight, we must not abandon these girls and boys to their hardship. The deadly recent blaze that ravaged parts of the camp and left 45,000 people homeless overnight is a stark reminder of the perilous and overcrowded conditions children endure in the largest refugee camp on Earth,” said Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait.
“For a girl or boy living in such difficult circumstances, education is a lifeline, it is their only hope of a better future. ECW is committed to stand with them. We are preparing an additional multi-year allocation to support continuous learning opportunities for Rohingya children in 2021 and beyond, and I call on other donors to join our efforts to fill the financial gap of over $100 million in coming years.”
Akhter was grateful for the diversity of the curriculum offered to her children.
“Before coming to Bangladesh, our children did not have the opportunity to study in this way. They only learnt Arabic from Maulavis (religious teachers). They did not have the opportunity to go far from home. They could [only] play around their houses,” Akhter told IPS.
Nine-year-old Jouria never thought it possible that she would continue her education after fleeing Myanmar in 2017. Now she receives a broader education and has since learnt other languages.
“We learnt Burmese and English alphabets from the learning centres. Now we can read and write (in these languages). We learnt how to take care of ourselves through healthy and safe practices,” Jouria told IPS.
She loves school.
“We enjoy learning as these centres are equipped with educational and sports materials. The facilitators of our learning centres explain everything to us through songs and stories, writing, drawing and games.”
Ten-year-old Asoma is in Grade 2. She told IPS that apart from conventional lessons, basic life-skills are also taught.
“We have learnt lessons on how to keep clean, on food habits and hygiene, when we should go to sleep and other life-skills. I enjoy learning at my centre,” she said.
Asma said her learning centre was very clean, well-decorated with different colours and equipped with educational materials and toys.
“We get enough time to play at the learning centres and that’s why I like my centre.”
Children are also given mental health and psychosocial support and aided with behavioural and language development, among other thing.
Seno Ara, a mother of three, told IPS: “Our children are being able to cope with mental trauma as they are busy making toys, drawing and playing at the learning centres.”
“From the parenting education sessions, we also learn about the risks to children…how to prevent drug addiction, how to take care of our children with disabilities, and how to keep the children safe in times of crisis,” Ara said.
In 2020, piloting of the Myanmar Curriculum began and is currently being scaled up.
The implementation of the ECW-funded multi-year programme is coordinated by various United Nations implementing agencies and partners, including the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Other partners include members of Cox’s Bazar Education Sector, local administration, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner and the Cox’s Bazar District Primary Education Office.
UNICEF Bangladesh Cox’s Bazar Chief of Field Office, Dr. Ezatullah Majeed, said over 230,000 children were reached through UNICEF-supported learning centres that received funding from multiple donors. Of these, 27,000 children — half of whom are girls — benefitted directly from ECW funding. According to UNICEF, the recent fire damaged 141 of their learning centres.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the learning centres have been the learning area for the children. The learning centres in the camps also provide a venue where the children get a sense of normalcy, joy, stability, and hope for the future. To date, the centres remain closed following the national directive on school closure in order to contain the COVID-19 pandemic,” Majeed told IPS.
UNHCR Education Officer in Cox’s Bazar, Selamawit Berhanu, said that ECW funds enabled UNHCR to reach 61,300 children and youth – both girls and boys – with home-based education during the COVID-19 pandemic. “UNHCR was able to support caregiver’s in assisting learners to continue learning at home, with the support of teachers, who were conducting shed visits on regular basis,” she said.
UNHCR also constructed a teachers’ training centre. “The centre helps to ensure a continuous supply of well trained and qualified teachers and also allows both refugee and host community teachers to come together in one place to exchange ideas and learn from each other,” she said.
UNESCO Programme Officer for Education, M. Shahidul Islam said that the agency supports parent education for community engagement and education system strengthening that benefits 88,500 children — half of whom are girls. UNESCO supports 40 learning centres in Rohingya camps and 78 host community government primary schools in the Cox’s Bazar district. Since parenting education contributes greatly to the wellbeing and education of children, it is being scaled up by 15 implementing agencies through their own arrangements.
None of the UNICEF learning centres were damaged in the fire.
Nurul Islam, project manager of Plan International Bangladesh – the implementing partner of UNESCO – told IPS that parents were educated on how to care for their children as well as how to protect themselves and their families against COVID-19.
“About 3200 parents have already taken part in these parenting education sessions. Of them, 1,850 were mothers, while 1,450 were fathers,” he added.
According to project officials, through educating parents, children are able to receive appropriate care from their family.
Children will continue with home-based and caregiver-based learning until COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
“The continuity in education services through the caregiver-led home-based learning has contributed positively in providing alternative learning opportunities among the Rohingya children. In doing so, it mitigates the psychosocial impact of the conflict and disasters by providing a sense of normalcy, routine, stability, structure and hope for the future,” Majeed, told IPS.