The military in Myanmar has been violently persecuting the Rohingya for decades. Since August 2017, the ethnic genocide has caused approximately 740,000 Rohingya people to flee Bangladesh. While Bangladesh saved many lives by allowing the Rohingya into the country, the government has restricted formal education for Rohingya children and provided no rationale. Rohingya children have never been allowed to attend public or private schools in Bangladesh. Instead, they have been studying in unauthorized home-based or community-led schools.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar government has refused to permit its curriculum in refugee camps, so UNICEF has been working since 2018 to design and implement an informal curriculum in Rohingya refugee camps. However, The Bangladesh government has been increasingly limiting the educational programming humanitarian groups can provide in the camps. The Rohingya children that can study typically only have access to instruction for a few hours a day and lack critical educational resources.
On December 13, 2021, there was a new, unforeseen development in this crisis. The Bangladesh government issued an order to close all “unauthorized” learning centers. This decision refers to the community-led schools run by volunteer Rohingya refugee teachers. According to ReliefWeb, Bangladesh police went into community-led schools on December 13 without any advanced warning, seized furniture and educational materials, and ordered teachers to stop teaching immediately. They also consulted community leaders for comprehensive lists of all private learning centers and ordered them to close immediately. The Bangladesh government says that only the 3,000 learning centers supported by UNICEF in the camps will not close. However, these centers cannot account for all of the students affected by the immediate closures, which means that thousands of children will no longer be able to study.
The new ruling also further prohibits Rohingya refugee children from integrating into Bangladesh society. For instance, it requires the Myanmar national anthem to be played daily and prohibits Rohingya children from learning the culture of Bangladesh and the language of Bangla. In restricting the cultural integration of Rohingya children at such an extreme level, the Bangladesh government seems to imply that these children will soon return to Myanmar. However, the violent genocide in Myanmar has only gotten worse, and there is no evidence that it will be safe for the Rohingya to return soon.
Cutting off Rohingya children from access to education does not just deny them fundamental human rights; it puts them at proven risk of being stuck in poverty or trapped in child labor or child marriage. These concerns have prompted many policymakers and humanitarian agencies to call for more international attention to Bangladesh and Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya. They have also encouraged coordinated international efforts to resolve this crisis. However, concrete, practical action has yet to be taken. Global humanitarian funding for education in Myanmar has decreased in the last three years. There are no detailed action plans developed to bypass governmental barriers to Rohingya education. This issue brings to light critical policy gaps in international efforts to address education in emergencies. While researchers often articulate general recommendations about what needs to be done, such as the need for governments to “work towards an agreement” and humanitarian actors to form more “coordinated structures,” these suggestions rarely get transformed into actionable change that meets the needs of individual migrants affected by conflict settings.