Two years after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees started arriving in the Cox’s Bazar district of south-eastern Bangladesh, the need for services remains dire. In spite of huge efforts by humanitarian agencies under the leadership of the government of Bangladesh, substantial gaps exist in health, nutrition, child protection and water, sanitation and hygiene services.
Amid all these pressing needs, one above all others has become a clarion call for action: quality education and skills development.
In any encounter with a refugee—child or adult—conversation quickly turns to the absence of a formal learning system, and the deeply troubling implications for the children and adolescents in the refugee camps.
It is not hard to see why: as things stand, a generation of Rohingya refugees is not being given the chance to develop the essential skills they need to guarantee their long-term future, wherever they eventually settle.
When the huge influx of Rohingya refugees into Cox’s Bazar took place in 2017, finding a safe space for children to learn was one of the top priorities for the international agencies leading the response.
In the early months of the crisis, numerous learning centres were quickly constructed. Local Bangladeshis were hired to teach alongside Rohingya volunteers.
Given the enormous constraints, this was a considerable achievement. For many children in the camps, the learning centres were their first experience in a classroom. The reassurance of being in a caring, secure environment helped many on the path to recovery from the traumatic experiences that drove them from Myanmar. It also contributed to high rates of school attendance.
But even in this initial phase, the shortcomings of the informal classes were soon obvious.
Without proper teaching and study materials, teachers had to improvise. Children gained basic numeracy and reading skills in English and Burmese, but not much else. For children and adolescents older than 14, there were no education opportunities available at all.
Fortunately, the situation is changing. The Learning Competency Framework and Approach (LCFA), a structured set of teaching and learning materials, is being progressively introduced with lessons designed for children aged 4 to 14 in English, Mathematics, and Burmese as well as Life Skills (for Levels 1 and 2) and Science (for Levels 3 and 4). The contribution to this undertaking of our various partners—especially the national NGOs—has been immense.
The feedback has been positive from students, teachers and parents. But there is still much to improve. We now have the task of refining and expanding the learning process, while making it available to all children and adolescents in the refugee camps.
It is an enormous undertaking for sure. While strengthening the quality of learning for younger children, an entire adolescent curriculum needs to be established, offering foundational skills in literacy and numeracy alongside more practical vocational skills that can translate into opportunities in entrepreneurship.
This task can only be achieved and taken to scale with the full backing of a wide range of partners including, most critically, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Having access to local resources such as teachers with the required language skills, learning materials and student assessment tools will be vital to success.
The international community must also play its part, making available the resources needed for such a large humanitarian undertaking.
The stakes are high, and time is against us. A generation of children is growing older day by day, and we must make sure they do not lose hope in their futures. We cannot afford to fail them.
Tomoo Hozumi is UNICEF Representative, Bangladesh.