Rohingya children studying on, despite displacement and the pandemic

Above: Zuzan (centre) and friends are back in the classroom after temporary learning centres were closed due to the pandemic. Photo: May Zel Tin Win/Save the Children

For students living in Myanmar’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, access to temporary learning centres has been a lifeline.

As members of the Rohingya minority, which has faced violence, displacement and discrimination in Myanmar, many students have been denied access to local primary schools.

Zuzan is 12 years old and lives in an IDP camp in Rakhine State. Zuzan has one older brother and three younger sisters. She lived in Sittwe Township until she was three years old. Zuzan and her family were then forced to move out of the city during anti-Muslim violence in 2012, and were resettled in an IDP camp.

Zuzan was denied admission to primary school as government teachers said she was too short and thin to be of school age, despite Zuzan being the right age to enrol. So Zuzan spent her time at home, caring for her younger sisters.

“I was not happy and got frustrated watching out for my younger sisters. I wanted to make friends and play with them. I also want to go to school and read out poems,” Zuzan said.

In response to the growing need for education for children in IDP camps, Save the Children’s Education in Emergency project established Temporary Learning Centres (TLC) and provided educational materials for children living in the camps, with joint support from UNICEF and DFAT. This program has continued with the support of the Australian Humanitarian Partnership since 2020.

For Zinzan, she was able to begin her primary school education at a TLC when she was seven.

“I gained the friends that I always imagined, and I was happy as I could play with lots of friends every day at the end of school hours,” she said.

“I really enjoyed learning Myanmar language and Mathematics from the teachers. I truly want to be a teacher when I grow up because I want to teach the younger ones in my camp.”

“Also, I really love drawing, and every day I could paint and draw because the TLC provided drawing materials.”

Above: Drawing is one of Zuzan’s favourite activities at the temporary learning centre. Photo: May Zel Tin Win/Save the Children

COVID-19 presented another major disruption to Rohingya children’s education.

When schools and TLCs were forced to close due to the pandemic, Save the Children supported home-based learning for IDP children aged 6-15. In line with Ministry of Health and Sports guidelines, the students were divided into groups of five or less to continue lessons in literacy and numeracy. Children also received lessons on how to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their homes and communities.

In total, 7,023 IDP children (3685 boys and 3338 girls), including 37 children with disabilities, engaged in these learning sessions in Sittwe and Pauktaw camps. Save the Children also provided stationery to IDP children so they could continue to learn at home during the school closure. Parents were provided with audio files containing advice on how to minimise the spread of COVID-19 and support their children to learn remotely.

When restrictions began to ease, Save the Children began preparations for the reopening of the TLCs, and completed the reconstruction of 24 TLC buildings with the support of the Australian Humanitarian Partnership. A further four TLC buildings were rebuilt with the support of UNICEF, who also provided COVID-19 posters to hang in the refurbished classrooms.

In November 2021, Save the Children reopened the TLCs in line with the school safety guidelines developed by the Education in Emergencies and WASH clusters in Rakhine State. Across Sittwe and Pauktaw, 7123 IDP children (3697 boys and 3426 girls) are now enrolled in TLCs for the 2021-2022 academic year. All these children have been provided with student kits, which include masks and face shields, so they may return to school and learn safely.  

Zuzan is grateful to have received this support from Save the Children, and to have been able to continue her studies despite the closure of the learning centres.

“Thanks to home-based learning, I am still connected with my studies and have an opportunity to draw and play with my friends. I did not feel any of the unhappiness or disappointment that I felt before. Also, the TLC has now re-opened, and I am happily going to school again,” Zuzan said.

Through the Education in Emergencies response in Myanmar, AHP partners are providing primary education to displaced children and aiming to improve the overall quality of education within IDP camps through professional development for teachers and school community engagement. Ensuring girls, children with disabilities and adolescents are included in education activities is a specific focus.

AHP partners involved in the response include Save the Children Australia, Plan International Australia, Lutheran World Federation and Humanity and Inclusion. The AHP consortium has also linked with Muslim Aid to ensure all agencies focussing on education are working toward the same outcomes.