Bangladesh – It is a hot, chaotic morning at Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp located on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Rohingya women, men and children, uprooted from Myanmar, form long queues outside the offices of various aid organisations and wait to receive clothes, food and medicines.
There is a rush to collect stacks of bamboo to protect weak settlements from the upcoming monsoon. Children help out too, carrying the heavy poles as they balance boxes of aid material on their little heads. Some children run around and play in groups, while others attend temporary learning centres where English, Burmese and mathematics are taught.
The Rohingya have faced brutal persecution and discrimination at the hands of the Myanmar government, which refuses to recognise them as citizens and has killed or forced out large chunks of their population in repeated, barbaric acts of ethnic cleansing.
Following the most recent cycle of violence in August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, taking their population in Bangladesh to about a million now.
Children and youth between 3-24 years comprise nearly half of the Rohingya refugees and are not allowed to pursue formal education in Bangladesh.
Only informal education is available through temporary learning centres and religious schools or ‘maktabs’ which offer Arabic language and Quranic education.
Maktabs are separate from the network of temporary learning centres and are funded by private Bangladeshi donors or countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Viewed against the backdrop of religious oppression of the Rohingya in Rakhine state, the maktabs are seen positively by the refugees in Bangladesh camp. The maktabs also keep the children occupied, since any movement outside the camp is not allowed.
Informal education their only option
Set up by UNICEF, Save the Children and local Bangladeshi organisations, the temporary learning centres, now numbering close to 1,100, provide informal education to Rohingya children aged 4-14 years.
Bengali, however, is not being taught, since the Bangladesh government does not plan to integrate Rohingya refugees with the local population.
It is past noon, and the temporary learning centre at the camp has wound up for the day. Children scamper out of the small room made of tin, sticks, and coarse cloth.
A blackboard, bearing the words ‘beard’, ‘buttocks’ and ‘abdomen’ in English, stands in a corner. The teacher, Mohammed Abdullah, an 18-year-old Rohingya refugee, rubs it clean.
As Abdullah explains the curriculum to me, he is joined by Janatullah, also 18 and a Rohingya refugee.
Janatullah appears restless and angry - he was unable to attend his matriculation exam because of the violence that broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017.
“I would have appeared for the examination this year. I was the best in my class. But the violence drove us out. The Myanmar government murdered our families and prevented us from education. I wanted to study in a university and learn English. I do not know if it will ever happen. Now, I can only live on charity,” Janatullah told Al Jazeera.