Thousands of Rohingya children, who fled to Bangladesh from the Rakhine state to save their lives, are staring at a bleak future as chances for them to resume their schooling appear slim.
The cramped camps in Bangladesh, where they are currently staying, lack schooling facilities.
A number of NGOs and aid providers have arranged informal education including life skills training, basic literacy and numeracy for the children at learning centres operated by them while makeshift mosques are providing religious education.
Bangladesh has not taken any steps to help the children continue their studies.
Ukhiya’s Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Nikaruzzaman says they are keeping a close eye on the learning centres to make sure the children are not taught Bangla which can help them interact with the locals.
The language spoken by the Rohingya has striking similarities with the Cox’s Bazar dialect.
Nearly 690,000 Rohingya entered Bangladesh between August last year and February 11, 2018, after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown against the mainly Muslim minority following militant attacks on border outposts and an army base.
About 58% of the forcefully displaced persons are children, according to the Unicef. It is believed that more than 100,000 of them are school goers. Many children interviewed by the Dhaka Tribune say they want to continue their education.
The Unicef has managed to reach 80,370 children – aged between 4 and 14 years – until February 1 to provide them early learning and non-formal education.
Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya and call them ‘Bangali’ to imply that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite having lived in the country for generations. State-sponsored persecution and discrimination against the minority stretch back decades.
Many Rohingya are forced to live in squalid camps in apartheid-like conditions. The Buddhist-majority country also denies the Rohingya higher education.
Mohammad Hussain from Hatipara village in Maungdaw said Rohingya children were allowed to study up to grade 10 before the deadly 2012 riot. But after that, the ceiling was brought down to grade VI.
“The children are very enthusiastic. Many even flee to Bangladesh and get themselves admitted to madrasas in the Chittagong region hiding their identities after finishing the primary level in the Rakhine state,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Md Jamal, a 10-year-old studying at a learning centre run by Save the Children at Balukhali 1 camp, said he wished to resume school as soon as he was sent back home.
“The local Moghs did not allow us to study with their children,” 10-year-old Md Jamal said. “A man from our community had set up a primary school at Hatipara and taught us there.”
In December last year, the Rakhine State Education Office in a report said that over 106,000 students had failed to resume education after schools at three townships which were re-opened following the violence.
Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Ali Hossain defended Bangladesh’s education policy for the Rohingya children.
“We are working to send them back as soon as possible as they are here on a temporary basis. So, we are focusing on meeting their basic needs with the assistance of the aid providers,” he said.
The repatriation process, scheduled to begin on January 23, has been delayed and it is unclear when it will resume.