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Education for refugee children in a competitive world

In order to improve the situation of education of refugee children and youth, the close collaboration between the respective governments and non-governmental organizations is a must.
Masum Billah
Education for refugee children in a competitive world

Half of the world’s refugees are children who are of school age but more than half of them don’t receive any education, as UNICEF says. The world experiences a high influx of refugees due to war and conflict and at least 100 million people have left their homes to seek refuge either within or outside the border of their homelands making naked the hollow civilization we take pride in.

UNCHR reported in June 2020 that 79.5 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide due to violence, conflict, persecution and the violation of human rights. 40 percent children below the age of 18 constitute forcibly displaced population in the world whose enrollment in primary education is 77 percent but in the secondary it sees drastically changed figure which is 31 percent and in higher education it registers extremely poor with 3 percent only.

UNICEF has developed a conceptual framework of a rights-based approach for education for all emphasizing three dimensions—the right to access to education, the right to quality education and respect for human right in education. The right to access to education requires a promise to safeguard universal access to education throughout all stages of childhood and beyond, availability and accessibility of education and equality of education. Without ensuring children’s rights to health and welfare, quality education can never be achieved. If children are subjected to humiliating physical abuse or punishment, the optimum development for children cannot be acquired. India does not have any particular policy to deal with refugees, she provides some education to refugee children from a humanitarian perspective with the assistance of some NGOs and UN agencies. Some underlying causes hinder Afghan refugees in receiving education in Pakistan and India. Research shows that both India and Pakistan have been facing many challenges in process of securing the right to education of Afghan refugees. Some common problems including lack of financial resources, lack of security, lack of availability of transport, lack of access to quality education, physiological disorders, dependence on UNHCHR and NGOs. In order to improve the situation of education of refugee children and youth, the close collaboration between the respective governments and non-governmental organizations is a must.  

Since 1978 around 1.2 million Rohingya from Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh as refugees. The most recent influx of 2017 has resulted in nearly 742000 Rohingya reaching Bangladesh. Currently around 912000 Rohingya are living in two registered refugee camps as well as in the makeshift settlements around Cox’s Bazar. In the Rohingya refugee community, around 683000 are children. Some NGOs give them religious education with two objectives—religious education gives Islamic knowledge and discipline and creating job opportunities for Rohingya refugee children in future. However, 280000 children aged 4 to 14 are getting emergency education provided by the overall education sectors of refugee education in Cox’s Bazar. The Rakhine-Rohingya conflict started in the World War II. The Rohingya took part alongside the British in WWII while the Buddhist people took the side of the axis power Japan. Following this decision, with the help of Thakin’s party, ultranationalist Buddhist of Myanmar imposed severe communal violence on Rohingyas. Japan took control of Akyab on 23 March 1942 and many British soldiers, Karen and others had died by the bombing of the Japan Air Force. The British soldiers fled away on seeing the Japanese entering Burma. As consequences, the local Buddhists and the Burmese Independent Army created communal attacks on the Rohingyas that killed about 100000 Rohingyas. When the government denied the citizenship of Rohingya people many government public schools in Rakhine witnessed closure shutting the door of education for Rohingya children. They had only option to go to madrasa for education which could not equip them to face the challenges they embrace. Myanmar schools teach children five pillars of the country---farmers, workers, students, monks and military. 90 percent people in Myanamr are Buddhist while only 3.9 percent are Muslims who have 1200 mosques in Rakhine out of total 2500 mosques in Myanmar. Myanmar government is trying to cut the number of mosques and madrasa and take control of Islamic education.

The government of Bangladesh allowed Rohingya refugee children to have access to primary and kindergarten schooling in two registered camps since 1997. Secondary level education was also initiated after 2007 and Rohingya children were allowed to enroll at grade seven. Overall, 21 primary schools and 2 secondary schools have been established in two registered camps: 11 in Nayapara and 10 in Kutupalong. The government permitted INGOs and NGOs to use ‘Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies’ to provide emergency education to Rohingya refugee children in the camps and makeshift settlements. The primary emphasis of this emergency education is to offer basic literacy and numeracy for age group of 5- 14 years as well as to give psycho-social and recreational support. Emergency education is of three types such as early learning for (5-6) year’s children, basic learning for (7-10) age group and life skill learning for 11-14 years old group. UNHCR   promises the expansion of education opportunity for the Rohingya refugee children as Bangladesh Government has taken a landmark decision in 2020. For running madrasa education the government does not give any support but children get biscuits, rice, meat, bag, pencil, writing pens and pencils while going to emergency education centers. Emergency Education Centers offer child friendly spaces which help to reduce traumatized behavior of refugee children in the camps.  And really refugee children visit learning centers mainly for enjoyment and pleasure, not for learning. The opposite picture prevails in madrasas as these are not child-friendly for refuge children. These spaces do not have an option for children to enjoy such as playing, dancing and singing songs. As a result, those children who have attended religious education are still traumatized. Sometimes, they become violent with their friends and classrooms.

Over 70.8 million people from over 134 countries have seen coercive   displacement from their countries of origins and 41.3 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes by civil or interstate war. Around 25.9 million are refugees and 3.9 million stateless worldwide. Bangladesh badly experiences the hosting of a big number of such refugees not only coming from Myanmar, she also sees stranded Pakistani people who are mostly known as Bihari. Currently an estimated 400000 Bihari refuges are living in 116 different camps in 13 districts in Bangladesh. Dhaka district alone hosts 100,000 Biharies in 45 settlements among which Geneva Camp is the biggest. Among these Bihari refuges, children and women are the most vulnerable people in the camps. Around 95 percent of them are illiterate and socially underdeveloped. 23 percent refugee children attend secondary school which is 84 percent in case of non-refugees. 20 percent Bihari children do not receive any academic education and 37 percent receive primary education. Globally 61 percent refugee children attend primary school which is 92 percent among those who are non-refugee.

The rightful and durable solution to repatriate these children in their home countries, or at least they can be integrated into host countries, if possible. The policy makers of the states concerned and the global leaders must adopt the durable solution to the refugee problem along with ensuring proper education for the refugee children.

The writer works for BRAC Education and President- English Teachers’ Association of Bangaldesh ( ETAB). He used to teach in Cadet Colleges, Rajuk College and BOU. Email: [email protected]

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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