Keeping the kids in school: 200 learning centres for Rohingya children

March 6, 2018

Reading Time: 3 minutes

10-year-old Abdullah is writing numbers in his notebook, sitting on a bright blue and green mat with the sun pouring in through the thatched bamboo. He writes, without pause and in neat handwriting, from 1 to 20 in Burmese and English. Abdullah attends the temporary learning centre in B26/1 of Balukhali 1 in Cox’s Bazar along with his two brothers.

“Today we formed a train with our hands on each other shoulders and sang a song before starting lessons,” he says, “I enjoyed it very much. I also enjoy the English classes!”

Abdullah is one of 21,000 children attending our temporary learning centres in the four camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Almost 688,000 forcibly-displaced Myanmar nationals (FDMN) have been reported to enter Bangladesh since the attacks in August 2017 in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

Around 60% of the population are children. These children were already educationally marginalised before the crisis. Now the crisis has marginalised them further, disrupting their access to educational opportunities.

We signed an agreement with UNICEF in November 2017 to implement early learning (EL) and non-formal basic education (NFBE) centres. The main goal is to support children in achieving universal education, and thereby reduce vulnerability and improve the quality of life for what is the world’s most persecuted minority group.

BRAC had no learning centres until November 2017. We succeeded in establishing 200 centres by the first week of January 2018, as part of the one-year project.

These centres mostly focus on early grade learning, basic literacy, numeracy, life-saving information, psychosocial support and life skills for children aged four to 14 years. Students attend the centres six days a week for two hours. There are three shifts per day for different age groups to ensure smoother delivery of education. Teachers are selected from both the host community and volunteers from the Rohingya community. Learning becomes easier since students have an instructor from their own community.

They start each session by greeting each other and singing the national anthem of Myanmar. This is followed by physical exercise,  rhymes, stories, creative work, and classes on math, science, the Burmese language and English. Teachers disseminate life-saving messages to ensure better health and safety for children. The children are taught in both Burmese and English to keep them close to their culture and prepare them for the global workforce.

There are still a few challenges for these temporary learning centres. It is often difficult to ensure regular attendance. The children often have to stay back home in the absence of their mother, or collect food from distribution centres, or ongoing vaccination campaigns or surveys by NGOs.

The weather too has been among the list of obstacles. When the wind blows, the plastic roofs of the learning centres flap loudly, making it difficult for students to concentrate. The lightweight structures of the centres might not be strong enough to survive storms in the upcoming monsoon season. Some learning centres are at risk of being flooded during heavy showers. It will also become tough for students to come to the centres walking through the muddy, disrupted footways.

Our plan is to gradually transfer these classrooms into learning centres with sustainable infrastructure and improved water, sanitation and hygiene facilities as part of the second phase from June 2018. This will be undertaken in a phased approach, depending on funds and space for construction.

The temporary learning centres complement the mainstream school system with innovative teaching methods and material. They are designed to provide a second chance at learning to displaced children left out of the formal education system due to extreme poverty, violence and discrimination.

Shamsul Alam is the deputy manager of communications and partnerships for BRAC’s humanitarian crisis management programme.