Close to a million Rohingya refugees live in massive refugee camps in Bangladesh, waiting for the day when they can someday return home to Myanmar, which denied them citizenship, basic rights, and protection when religious zealots began a genocide upon them. Nearly half of those refugees are children. Some have lived in these camps all their lives. Most have been there for at least two years, and in that time, there hasn’t been much on offer as far as education goes. But now, that’s changing.

A partnership between UNICEF and the Bangladeshi government has spawned a new program to provide education and vocational training to 10,000 Rohingya youths between grades 6 and 9.

“They will be taught in Myanmar’s language, they will follow Myanmar’s curriculum, there is no chance to study in formal Bangladeshi schools,” said Bangladesh Refugee, Relief, and Repatriation Commissioner Mahbub Alan Talukder.

“Individuals with appropriate academic qualification and experience will be recruited from both Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities and trained as teachers,” said Mostafa Mohammed Sazzad Hossain, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Dhaka.

“This is an important and very positive commitment by the Bangladeshi government, allowing children to access schooling and chase their dreams for the future,” said Saad Hammadi, a campaigner for refugee education. He added that the refugee children “cannot afford to lose any more time outside a classroom.”

Human rights groups have long been campaigning for Rohingya children to be allowed access to quality education; otherwise, the cost might be a “lost generation.”

Currently, UNICEF operates 1,600 small schools scattered through the camps, teaching around a third of those children the educational basics, up to grade six. Many of these children have never been to formal school before; in Myanmar, Rohingya children have not been in permitted to attend public schools since 1982. In 2012, they were banned from universities as well.

“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,” said Rahima Akter, a 21-year-old Rohingya refugee whose own education was disrupted when she was expelled from her university in Myanmar because of her ethnicity. “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.”

Photo: Rohingya children who crossed from Myanmar to Bangladesh wait to receive food at a refugee camp. Credit: Sk Hasan Ali /