Expanding education for Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh

UNICEF to further expand access to education for Rohingya children by introducing the Myanmar curriculum for 10,000 students on a pilot basis in the first half of the year

Karen Reidy
UNICEF learning centre in Kutupalong refugee camp, Cox's Bazar
10 February 2020

In 2020, UNICEF will enter a major new phase for education of Rohingya refugee children living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, together with other humanitarian actors. Following a landmark decision by the Government of Bangladesh, UNICEF will further expand access to education by introducing the Myanmar curriculum on a pilot basis in the first half of the year.

The pilot will initially target 10,000 Rohingya students from grades six to nine. It will then be expanded to other grades in a phased manner. The pilot targets older children, who currently have less access to education compared with their younger counterparts. 

“Education takes people from the darkness and brings them into the light. “What drives me is the students’ ambition to learn,” said Rozina Aktar, a teacher for level 4 students.

Rohingya community’s desire for new curriculum

The introduction of the pilot follows the wishes of the Rohingya refugees and builds hope for their future by giving then access to education based on the Myanmar curriculum.

It will also help Rohingya children reintegrate into the Myanmar education system and society when conditions become conducive for them to return to Myanmar in a voluntary, safe and dignified way.

315,000 children and adolescents study at over 3,200 learning centres

UNICEF currently provides informal education opportunities to 220,000 Rohingya children aged 4 to14 years based on a tailor-made curriculum called the Learning Competency Framework and Approach (LCFA). 

However, the majority of children (over 90 per cent) are learning LCFA levels 1 and 2, the equivalent of preprimary level up to grade 2 in a formal school system. Few Rohingya students have enough learning to study at the higher levels (LCFA levels 3 and 4), equivalent of grades 3 to 8, due to the poor status of their education in Rakhine State in Myanmar.

For the humanitarian Education Sector as a whole, there are 315,000 children and adolescents studying at over 3,200 learning centres (LCs) in the refugee camps, out of which over 70 per cent are enrolled in UNICEF-supported centres.

Children currently learn a total of five subjects; English, mathematics, Burmese, life skills for levels 1 and 2, in addition to science for levels 3 and 4.

Classes are run by one Bangladeshi teacher from the host community and one Burmese language instructor from the Rohingya community.

UNICEF supported learning centre
Rozina Aktar helps her students with their classwork in a UNICEF supported learning centre.

Education for adolescents

UNICEF also provides education and learning opportunities for older groups, with over 18,000 Rohingya adolescents aged 15 to 18 years receiving literacy, numeracy, life-skills and vocational skills training.

However, significant gaps remain. Adolescent-focused programmes must be scaled up to reach all 74,000 Rohingya adolescents aged 15 to 18 years.

Nur is a sixteen-year-old Rohingya girl participating in a skills development programme at a UNICEF supported Multi-purpose Child and Adolescent Centre. She is learning how to install and repair solar panels that are ubiquitous in the refugee camps.

“I’m learning this so that I can do repairs myself in my house. The boys can come here, so why not the girls?", said Nur.

UNICEF supported Multipurpose Child and Adolescent Centre in the Rohingya camps
Nur (yellow scarf) watches careful as she learns to repair solar panels during her skills training session at a UNICEF supported Multipurpose Child and Adolescent Centre in the Rohingya camps.

Education plays a key role in every child’s development, but it becomes even more so in a humanitarian context. Rohingya children face an uncertain future which can lead to frustration and despair.

Without adequate opportunities for learning, they are more exposed to dangers of trafficking, child marriage, exploitation and abuse. 

Skills training helps to empower young girls and boys, builds their confidence and equips them with skills they need for the future.  

With the right investment in education, Rohingya children can begin to chart their own destinies and contribute more to their communities.

Recruiting new teachers 

To reach the initial target of 10,000 Rohingya children with the Myanmar Curriculum Pilot in the first year, an extra 250 teachers will be recruited in addition to the existing 8,900 teachers to teach the children based on a double-shift system.

The number of teachers will increase over time as the pilot is expanded to more children and also to other grades. Individuals with appropriate academic qualification and experience will be recruited from both Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities and trained as teachers. 

UNICEF learning space in the makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar
Rohingya children work out problems on a blackboard at a UNICEF learning space in the makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar.

The pilot will follow the Myanmar curriculum. Rohingya children will learn Burmese, English, mathematics, science and social studies, with additional subjects introduced over time.

Lessons learned from the implementation of the pilot, will be integrated into the second phase as the curriculum is scaled up and expanded to reach more children across other grades.

UNICEF welcomes the announcement from the Government of Bangladesh and recognizes its commitment to ensure access to learning for Rohingya children and adolescents.

“In collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh, we look forward to further expanding education and skills development programmes for all Rohingya children and adolescents to help them develop to their fullest potential. I would also like to thank the donors and Education Sector partners who have worked tirelessly to support learning activities by Rohingya children,” said Tomoo Hozumi, Representative, UNICEF Bangladesh.

“We still have a challenging journey ahead of us to translate this new positive development into reality.  But together I am confident we can do it.”

UNICEF wishes to express its sincere gratitude to the Governments of Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Germany (via KFW Development Bank) Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States of America, as well as Global Partnership for Education, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Education Cannot Wait, European Union, Islamic Development Bank, King Abdullah Foundation, UN Central Emergency Response Fund (UNCERF), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) the World Bank for their generous contributions to the education programme.