SHAMSUDDIN ILLIUS with TOUFIQUL ISLAM LIPU
Mohammad Ariful Islam, 8, was one of the many Rohingya children reading loudly from a map of Burmese alphabets at a learning centre (LC) in a refugee camp yesterday. Their young voices reciting the alphabets resonated across the camp. It was an effort to keep the children acquainted with their native language.
Owing to two major outbreaks of violence at Myanmar’s Rakhine state, these children have fled to Bangladesh with their families. As many as 60 students were found in two adjacent schools of Palong khali of Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar. The schools run in three shifts. Here international and local NGOs teach the refugee children Burmese, English and mathematics.
However, these children have no textbooks. There is also no organised curriculum. Besides, shortage of essential stationary like pencils, pens, crayons, notebooks, books, school bags and other classroom materials for children and teachers are hampering learning for the students.
There is yet another problem: only a handful of teachers understand the Burmese language. The NGOs have appointed some Rohingya youths to expedite the education process.
On visit to a refugee camp yesterday, Yeasmin Akhter, teacher of a school run by UNICEF at Palong Khali, was found teaching the children English and Mathematics. She was being aided by a Rohingya youth, Mohammad Faruk, who was a student Class IX in Rakhine state before leaving home.
When asked, Yeasmin said it would have been easier to teach the children, had there been specific textbooks and a curriculum.
It was found that there are two types of LCs in the camps. The first type is based on mosques, where the children are taught Arabic. The second type is based on schools, where the chldren are taught Burmese and English.
Contacted, Nazzina Mohsin, communication officer of UNICEF in Cox’s Bazar, told The Independent: “There i shortage of emergency learning materials, such as ECD Kits, as we have to buy them. In the meantime, we’re trying to teaching the children with what we have in our hands.”
“At the start of 2018, UNICEF has 25 per cent (USD 36 million) available funds against its 2018 appeal of USD 144 million required for the overall Rohingya response. An additional USD 108.5 million is required for the whole programme. If donors provide the appeal fund, we’d be able to continue all the services, including education, without any interruption,” said Nazzina.
She, however, admitted that there was no formally organised curriculum for the education of the refugee children.
“There is a working group comprising technical experts from the government, UN agencies, NGOs and the academia; it’s working on a learning framework for providing education services to the Rohingya children. The working group has developed a draft based on a series of discussions and workshops with education stakeholders from Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka. The draft will be submitted to the primary and mass education ministry by the end of January,” she said.
“Some basic story books for the children were provided as part of the psychosocial support. The LCs act as a safe haven for children for at least two hours. They get some sort of psychosocial support and can socialise with other children/adults. Most importantly, children get basic education in these centres. They also get safe drinking water, biscuits and hygiene support in these places,” she added.
About 157,000 refugee children are lucky enough to have the chance to visit LCs run by different NGOs. But about 296,000 refugee children aged 4–14 years have still remained out of the education coverage, according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group.
Although UNICEF says it has targeted 250,000 refugee children in need of humanitarian assistance as per the current Humanitarian Response Plan, it, in reality, can bring only 86,345 Rohingya children under the education coverage.
Nazzina Mohsin told The Independent that owing to the shortage of spaces and funds, UNICEF cannot establish more LCs. “We need to establish a total of 1,400 LCs to bring all the Rohingya children in the camp under the education coverage. So far, we have been able to establish only 849 LCs. If we can establish the other LCs, we would be able to bring the other children under the education coverage,” she said.
“Since the camps are rather congested, it’s difficult to find space for establishing LCs. Ensuring living space, latrines, and water and health facilities for the refugees is the first priority,” she added.