On 24th March 2020, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) (based in Cox’s Bazar) released a statement defining the essential and critical activities in all 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar for COVID19. The statement defined education as a non-essential activity. This resulted in severely restricted access for UN and NGO staff and the closure of learning facilities. This closure means that the education sector closed nearly 6,000 education facilities across the camps for the foreseeable future, disrupting learning of over 325,000 children (of which, 49 per cent are girls and adolescents aged 3 to - 24 years), and cutting off their access to education. These students are missing vital learning opportunities and have had their social support systems further disrupted. Moreover, without access to learning facilities – and in isolation – there is little scope to provide clear communication messaging, psychosocial support to both students and educators, as well as meet their social-emotional learning needs or provide life skills education.
The learning facility closures, also mean that the over 3,300 (81 per cent female) hostcommunity teachers do not have access to the camps, and, like their refugee teacher colleagues, they may be required to gain additional knowledge and skills to support distance learning. The crisis also disproportionately affects all opportunities for professional development and learning. Online platforms for customized professional development opportunities are nearly absent and the current teaching force lacks the necessary IT literacy, skills and attitudes (confidence, competence, agility) to continue self-learning to equip themselves with the new skills needed for remote teaching. Teachers may also require support to access technology such as hardware, internet connections and digital learning portals to support online learning. The Bangladeshi teachers are better placed than their refugee counterparts to access e-learning, but even these online professional development opportunities have yet to be developed and tailored to their needs. At this stage, education partners will continue to pay all teacher salaries but the challenge for education partners is on how to continue the active engagement of teachers due to restrictive measures.
Teachers, parents and caregivers lack the tools and strategies to home-school their children without structured guidance, while also ensuring children’s safety, security, and physicalmental wellbeing. Rohingya caregivers/parents, mostly with low educational attainment, do not have experience in distance schooling, and will struggle to support their children’s learning. Additionally, the mental and psychological wellbeing of children during this stressful time will be compromised. Without access to their usual peer networks or community-based learning opportunities, girls will become more vulnerable to exclusion more isolated and more susceptible to gender-based violence, and child labour for boys.
Children are especially the most at risk group to be affected by increased levels of domestic violence as caregivers and parents are staying home for prolonged hours and tensions build up, exacerbating the existing problems in overcrowded camps. Children who experience learning and/or physical challenges will face additional difficulties through further lack of support, frustration at home, and the discontinuation of positive outlets. Furthermore, without access to internet in the camps, many technology-based solutions are not viable.
Over 8,500 teachers and education facilitators, both from the host and refugee communities, are disconnected from their students and from regular continuous professional development activities, as Education Partners have suspended all training and coaching programmes.
The Government of Bangladesh has restricted access to Information Communication Technology (ICT) in the Rohyinga refugee camps. While there is on-going advocacy for the need for internet access during this crisis, this is not certain and currently accessibility to digital resources are almost non-existent. While there exists a number of online platforms for teachers and students, most are not guided by a comprehensive learning framework, and not directly linked to standard curricular delivery for both learners and teachers. While global learning resources are available, these are not readily comprehensible by the teaching force in the camps with low academic readiness, skills and confidence to use online platforms (English language capacity, capacity to process complex concepts, using tools and resources to utilize in teaching in innovative ways, etc.). The current education system in the camps is largely unprepared to address such issues, including selection of relevant content, delivery methods and modality of delivery.
General awareness related to mental health and psycho social wellbeing is also low in the camps. While child protection actors can currently continue their work as an essential service, we must consider the cost of isolation, disruption in routines and the fear surrounding COVID-19 on the wellbeing of children.