The right to education should be granted to all refugee and migrant children
From the field diary of Dr. Rownak Khan, Representative of UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is one of the transit countries on the migration route to Western Europe. More than 67,000 refugees and migrants arrived and passed through the country since the beginning of 2018.
As I joined as the Representative to UNICEF BiH, in 2019, I frequently travel to observe the situation and response of UNICEF in the temporary reception centres, where some 6,800 refugees, migrants, including about 1,000 children, are currently accommodated.
Last month I visited the centre “Sedra”, in Una Sana Canton where I met two amazing girls.
Eight-year-old Diyar and her 12-year old sister, Firyal along with their family of six, have been on the move for almost six years. This family’s harrowing journey took them from the Kurd area in Iraq to Turkey, and through Greece, Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia, before they reached BiH, a year ago.
Each stop posed different kinds of experiences and challenges, but Diyar and Firyal’s family had one goal– access to education in whatever form and in the most difficult circumstances.
Diyar started going to a nearby school, but her attendance was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and she misses her teachers and friends. In July 2020, UNICEF started implementing Akelius Digital Language course in five temporary reception centers. This digital based language course, already tested in other settings, engages children in user-friendly, interactive lessons through computers and tablets.The language course has greatly contributed to the overall progress of children’s learning and generated great interest for language learning not only in children but also their parents. The classes are also being organized for parents, so Firyal told me, almost sheepishly, that her mother is using the programme more frequently than she does! Since it was introduced, 572 children and 145 parents have enrolled onto the course.
The classes are taking place daily in the center, where children besides accessing the digital tool, are assisted with English language teachers who are combining digital tools with standard teaching methods, therefore using blended learning approach.
Children enrolled in the programme are divided in four to five groups, according to their level. Firyal is now in the “genius” category and is also using Oxford dictionary to learn more words, that she can use in her conversations with her teachers and classmates.
I was especially impressed by the deep connection of the sisters to their roots and how proud they are of their culture and heritage. Firyal was excited to introduce her culture and cuisine and proudly showed me the fruits and vegetables from her home and explained how to use them in meals or in salad.
The sisters’ optimism captivated me. Despite all the adversities they faced back home and during their perilous journey, they are eager to explore and learn. Like all other children, they have the right to have access to education, and I am proud to see that UNICEF is supporting them to exercise it.
UNICEF’s support for formal and non-formal education give sense of normalcy for children on the move. Learning together creates new bonds between children, teachers, and friends. Many keep in touch as their journeys take them to new destinations.
In cooperation with the Ministries of Education, 800 refugee and migrant children in BiH have been enrolled in public schools since February 2019, and more than 3,000 children were reached with non-formal education activities, such as the language learning course as I have witnessed during my visit.
In collaboration with the Ministries of Education and partners, UNICEF’s focus in 2021 and 2022 will be on to train teachers and staff on blended learning and inclusive education, provision of the cultural mediators, teaching materials, equipment and supplies and support for the enrollment of children in the public schools.
As I left the center, I kept thinking about these beautiful girls, their courage, resilience, and optimism. Their eyes literally lit up when they were proudly talking about their Kurd heritage and rich culture. I know that the coming days are difficult for them; still I strongly felt they will be able to fulfill their dreams for a better life, should they have access to education, care, and support.
- The names have been changed to protect the identities of children