Stepping into a classroom can be a life-changing experience. Education develops skills, broadens career choices and promotes self-reliance. It empowers children and youth to build a brighter future for themselves and their communities.

Yet, the reality for refugee children is very different than that of other children. Some 3.7 million refugees are out of school, according to UNHCR’s latest report Stepping Up: Refugee Education in Crisis.

In Bangladesh, many of the half a million Rohingya children and youth have no access to education at all, since they were forced to flee Myanmar in late August 2017.

One in three Rohingya primary school-aged children remain without access to education, while more than 96 per cent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are not attending any educational facilities.

UNHCR Education Officer James Onyango leads the education team in Cox’s Bazar. Here he explains how UNHCR is keeping the dream of education alive for Rohingya children.

Since 2009, UNHCR Education Officer James Onyango has been working to provide education opportunities for refugees. © UNHCR/G. Goodwin

What is the education situation in Bangladesh?

UNHCR is working to ensure access to education in a safe environment and to improve the quality of teaching and learning. With the help of partner organisations, we have set up primary and secondary learning centres, early childhood centres and adolescents’ clubs. In these spaces, lessons on math, languages, and literacy are conducted in English, Burmese and Rohingya.

In total, we have reached some 62,000 children and youth with learning opportunities and plan to reach twice as many by the end of the year.

How many new learning centres are needed?

We have plans to expand the number of learning centres and also the capacity of these structures, for example, two-story buildings. We are looking at about 450 new facilities in 2020. We also plan to renovate over 430 facilities. Currently, our learning centres are mainly temporary structures, made of bamboo, which means they need to be renovated often.

 

“They are from our communities and had no opportunity to go to school. I felt a strong responsibility to teach them.”

Rohingya teacher, Alinesa, teaches evening classes for newly arrived Rohingya refugees at Ideal Primary School, Kutupalong camp. © UNHCR/C. Gluck

How does UNHCR recruit and train teachers?

Our number one priority is the quality of the learning we are providing. In every learning centre we have two teachers, one from the Bangladeshi host community and another a Rohingya refugee. Our training program lasts about one year. After a week of intensive classroom-based training on education in emergencies, we introduce classroom management and child safeguarding principles.

Teachers then work alongside another teacher to observe each other’s lessons and exchange feedback. UNHCR has also developed a learner teacher program, where teachers can study English, a core part of Rohingya children’s education.

Finally, we provide audio and video materials for teachers to strengthen their skills at their own pace. Last year, UNHCR established our own teacher training facilities, places where teachers can study without having to travel away from the camps.

What does education mean to Rohingya families?

The desire for education is a clear part of the lives of Rohingya parents – education is always listed as one of their concerns. Parents ask us “what do you have to offer our adolescents?” or “why is it that children are only learning this number of subjects, what does this mean after next year?”

Rohingya children and youth want to be able to go to school and want to move up to a higher level, to get a job or a degree. UNHCR strives to provide learning opportunities for refugees so they can build their aspirations and develop their academic abilities.

“Back in Myanmar, I was in grade 6. I wanted to be a teacher and go to college. I’m happy to be here. We learn new things almost every day.”

Shehana, 16, studies at the Diamond Adolescent Club, set up by a UNHCR partner. © UNHCR/I. Yeasmine

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