Bangladesh Allows Education For Rohingya Refugee Children

On January 29th, the Bangladesh government announced plans to provide formal education to Rohingya child refugees, a move praised by human rights groups.  A pilot program led by UNICEF and the Bangladesh government will start in April with an initial 10,000 Rohingya children up to age 14 will be taught using a Myanmar school curriculum.  Children over 14 will receive skills training. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have been campaigning for the right to quality education for the over 400,000 Rohingya children living in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, and they see this new program as an important first step in avoiding the consequences of a “lost generation” of Rohingya vulnerable to poverty and exploitation.

In explaining the government’s approval of the new education program, the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary, Masud bin Momen, said: “the government has felt the need to keep Rohingya children’s hope for the future alive with extending education and skills training to them.”  Bangladesh has not formally recognized the majority of refugees and had resisted calls to give Rohingya children access to Bangladeshi schools, but with the new education program, Rohingya children “will be taught in Myanmar’s language, they will follow Myanmar’s curriculum, there is no chance to study in formal Bangladeshi schools.  There’s no scope for them to stay here in Bangladesh for long, so through this approach, they will be able to adapt to Myanmar’s society when they go back,” said Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner.  

There is strong international support for the education of Rohingya refugees.  The UN described the pilot program as “a positive step and a clear indication of the commitment by the government of Bangladesh to ensure access to learning for Rohingya children and adolescents, as well as to equip them with the right skills and capacities for their future and return to Myanmar when the conditions allow.”  Saad Hammadi, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty International, also approved of this decision to improve educational opportunities, saying “the benefits of educating children cannot be underestimated, with the positive effects rippling through their communities and broader society. They can speak up for themselves, claim their rights, and lift themselves and others out of a difficult situation… We welcome this significant breakthrough and look forward to the government delivering on its commitments.”

Rohingya children have been barred from attending schools in Myanmar and Bangladesh, with about one-third of the refugee children receiving a primary education at 1,600 temporary learning centers set up by UNICEF.  This has left Rohingya children without access to secondary-level education, and even with the implementation of the pilot program, Rohingya children in Bangladesh will still not have access to any accredited education.  Bangladesh’s pilot program is a good first step in providing Rohingya children their right to education, but there is still work to be done before all refugee children can have access to quality education. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that “the pilot will only reach 1 in every 40 Rohingya children by the end of 2020. It will also stop in class 9, while secondary education in Myanmar continues to class 12.”  HRW’s report suggested that Bangladesh could follow Turkey’s example, where they allowed “Syrian refugee teachers to set up schools and accredited a version of the Syrian curriculum, all without support from Syria.”

A large number of Rohingya refugees present in Bangladesh fled to the country after deadly attacks by Myanmar’s army in August 2017.  As an ethnic minority in the predominately Buddhist country of Myanmar, the Myanmar government denies the Rohingya people citizenship, leaving them stateless.  Just earlier this week, the International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar to take all measures within its power to prevent genocide and protect the Rohingya.  Myanmar will need to report back within four months on how it has implemented the ruling.

The recent recognition of the atrocities against the Rohingya by international courts suggests that movement is being made towards improving conditions for Rohingya in Myanmar. Although putting an end to the persecution and killing of Rohingya in Myanmar is the first and most important hurdle for Rohingya refugees to be able to safely return home, children also need access to education in order to live successful and fulfilling lives.  Bangladesh’s pilot program demonstrates the recognition and support of providing refugee children this human right.