More than a year after fleeing extreme violence in Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children have little opportunity for education and face uncertain futures, a report issued by UNICEF last week warns.
Some 500,000 Rohingya refugee children are living in crowded, rudimentary camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh near the border with Myanmar. While large-scale international aid efforts have ensured the camps have basic services, educational opportunities remain scant.
“If we don’t make the investment in education now, we face the very real danger of seeing a ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya children,” UNICEF’s Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder said in the report.
Initial studies by UNICEF show that “the vast majority” of Rohingya children under 14 are at a preschool level or – at best – the first step of primary.
Although about 1,200 temporary learning centers are operating in the camps, only about 140,000 children are enrolled. There is no agreed curriculum and classrooms are often overcrowded and lack basic water and sanitation facilities.
Joe English, a spokesperson for UNICEF, told The Globe Post that the learning centers offer a “non-formal education,” and that greater resources are urgently needed.
The Rohingya are an ethnic minority group historically concentrated in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. In August of 2017, the Myanmar military carried out operations in Rakhine, committing mass killings and alleged war crimes. Nearly one million Rohingyas who survived the offensive remain in camps in Bangladesh.
On Monday, the United Nations issued a report accusing the military of committing atrocities and calling for military leaders to face genocide charges.
Without better education opportunities, Beigbeder said he fears the children will face irreparable setbacks.
“[They] will be incapable of contributing to their society whenever they are able to return to Myanmar,” he said.
These fears are also held by Caroline Gluck, a public information officer for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees who works with Rohingyas on the ground in Bangladesh.
“A lack of responsive education programs perpetuates a cycle of lifetime exclusion of individuals and, at worst, a generation of communities,” she said.
Because of limited resources, priority was given to educating children under the age of 14, the report said. Because of this, many adolescent Rohingyas have no access to education at all.
One such refugee highlighted in UNICEF’s report was Mohamed Faisal, a 13-year-old Rohingya who lost his left arm after being shot while running through the forest escaping Myanmar.
“I see the schools here where the younger children go, but there is nothing for boys like me,” Faisal told UNICEF. “I feel very unhappy that I am unable to study here.”
“Half of the world’s refugees are children. Of the children who are of school age, more than half are not getting an education”
— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) August 29, 2018
UNICEF Chief of Education Bibek Sharma Poudyal said in the report that additional funding and resources are necessary to improve the quality of education in the camps and to expand opportunities to adolescents.
The organization has appealed for $28 million in funding for Rohingya education in 2018, English said. So far, they have received just 52 percent of it.
According to English, UNICEF has also called on authorities in Myanmar, where more than half a million Rohingya remain, to allow Rohingya children to attend local schools at all levels.
As of July, over three thousand Rohingya and Bangladeshi teachers have been recruited to work in the learning centers, but more are needed in order to provide an education to all Rohingyas, Poudyal said.
An additional obstacle to educating the refugee children is the fact that many of them have experienced psychological trauma.
“Colleagues working in the camps report children suffering nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety attacks and other manifestations of the trauma they have been through,” English said.
All teachers that work with UNHCR receive psychosocial training, and additional psychological resources are available for those in need. UNICEF has established child and adolescent groups within the camps.
“UNICEF is working to provide children with a safe space to learn, play, heal and just be children again,” English said. “These centers play an important part in bringing normalcy to children’s lives that were so brutally uprooted.”