Rights groups and activists have welcomed Bangladesh’s decision to allow Rohingya children living in sprawling refugee camps to receive a formal education, calling it a “positive step”.
To date, only one-third of Rohingya child refugees – who fled a brutal 2017 crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar – are able to access a primary education through temporary learning centres run by international agencies.
Starting in April, a pilot programme led by the UNICEF and Bangladesh government will initially enrol 10,000 Rohingya boys and girls up to the age of 14 in the sixth to ninth grades, where they will be taught the Myanmar school curriculum and receive skills training, officials said on Wednesday.
“It is a great news for us,” Nay San Lwin, co-founder of Free Rohingya Coalition, told Al Jazeera.
“As of now, at least the children can study up to grade 9 and youth can join skill trainings,” he said.
Primary education is provided to more than 145,000 children by a network of 1,600 UNICEF-run small learning centres in the refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh, where more than one million Rohingya, nearly half of whom are children, have been living since they fled persecution in Myanmar.
Nearly 750,000 of these refugees crossed the border after Buddhist-majority Myanmar launched a military crackdown on the mostly Muslim ethnic group in 2017.
Rahima Akter, a 21-year-old Rohingya refugee, who was expelled from Cox’s Bazaar International University because of her “Rohingya” welcomed the move.
“I wholeheartedly praise the Bangladesh government for allowing Rohingya children to get education, which is the fundamental human right of every citizen in every country. Refugees have the right to education too,” she told Al Jazeera.
Akter said it would be better, if the government gradually allows the refugees to have education beyond grade nine. “Without proper education, a person doesn’t have any bright future.”
She said after she was expelled from the university, she couldn’t go back to university education again. “Every day, it bugs me that I couldn’t pursue my dream of getting a university degree. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else,” she told Al Jazeera.
Human rights groups have long campaigned for the effectively stateless Rohingya children to be allowed access to quality education, warning of the costs of a “lost generation”.
“This is an important and very positive commitment by the Bangladeshi government, allowing children to access schooling and chase their dreams for the future. They have lost two academic years already and cannot afford to lose any more time outside a classroom,” Saad Hammadi, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, said the government agreed in principle with a proposal from the UN that the Rohingya children be provided with a Myanmar education.
“They will be taught in Myanmar’s language, they will follow Myanmar’s curriculum, there is no chance to study in formal Bangladeshi schools,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
“There’s no scope for them to stay here in Bangladesh for long, so through this approach, they will be able to adapt to Myanmar’s society when they go back.”
Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Dhaka, said a teacher-training programme is being developed.
“Individuals with appropriate academic qualification and experience will be recruited from both Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities and trained as teachers,” he told AP.
Myanmar’s government has long considered the Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights, including education. The United Nations has said the military crackdown launched against the group in 2017 UN was executed with “genocidal intent”.
Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to take emergency measures to protect the Rohingya population from genocide.
Rohingya activist Lwin urged Bangladeshi authorities to create more opportunities for the Rohingya youth, so they can also get a university education.
“Our youth had been blocked accessing university since 2012 in Myanmar,” he said.
“They have dreams to be professionals. Their dreams can come true if Bangladesh helps.”
Additional reporting by Saba Aziz in Doha and Faisal Mahmud in Dhaka