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Bangladesh: Assessment of the Education Sector response to the Rohingya crisis - Rohingya refugee response (March 2021)

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Since August 2017 over 745,000 Rohingya refugees have fled outbreaks of violence and military operations in neighbouring Myanmar. There are more than 860,000 Rohingya refugees living in 34 camp settlements across Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas, with over 55% of them below the age of 18. When living in Myanmar, Rohingya populations had limited access to services, including education opportunities, with less than 60% of children arriving in Bangladesh attending school in Myanmar, with fewer than 10% graduating beyond primary level.

Cox’s Bazar is one of the most impoverished districts of Bangladesh. In terms of education provided by the Bangladeshi government, the primary school completion rate is 54%, relative to a countrywide rate of nearly 80%. In 2019, an improvement has been noticed and 70% of primary school-aged children and 64% of secondary schoolaged were reportedly enrolled in formal education. Conversely, attendance of non-formal education across the host community was reportedly low: fewer than 10% of children were attending Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)-run schools.

The approximately 385,000 Rohingya children and youths now residing in Cox’s Bazar are almost solely reliant on the national and international NGOs for the provision of education services. Following a massive scale-up at the start of the response, education sector partners currently provide services through more than 6,000 learning centres spread throughout the camps. Services are available primarily to children aged 3 to 14, with limited educational opportunities currently available to adolescents and youths aged 15 to 24.

Over the past three years, education providers coordinated by the Cox’s Bazar Education Sector – currently co-led by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children International – have made significant progress into providing education to serve the population within Rohingya refugee camps. However, significant challenges remain. Attendance of adolescent girls remains extremely limited and particular challenges persist for students with disabilities, who were reported to be attending learning centres at lower rates than their peers for all age ranges. Appropriate space to teach and learn in crowded camps is also reportedly very challenging for partners.
Within the host community, the main barriers to education remain economic, with a large proportion of households reporting that education costs are too high. In response to some of these challenges, the Learning Competencies Framework and Approach (LCFA)7 was rolled out in camps in 2019 providing a key opportunity to emphasize and incorporate parent and community engagement and preferences regarding different learning modality options.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, all schools and learning centres in the camps and the host community had to close, forcing educators to find alternative solutions to continue teaching. In response to that, the Bangladeshi government had released some guidelines and remote learning strategies at national level.

Brief overview

This assessment aims to provide a robust evidence base three years into the Cox’s Bazar Education Sector’s response from the perspectives of caregivers, children and youths, as well as service providers and programmatic stakeholders. The Education Sector and the education sector partners have contributed to this assessment by being involved in the design of the tools and supporting with building the sample frame of quantitative surveys based on teachers and beneficiary lists.

The populations of interest of this assessment are refugee and host community (HC) children and youths between the ages of 3 and 24 in Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas, as well as caregivers and teachers providing education services to this population. The assessment was implemented through a two-staged mixed-methods approach consisting of a secondary analysis, and primary data collection.

The secondary analysis and review consisted of two parts: a document review of published reports and assessments, and a secondary data analysis (SDA) of matched student records of the 2018 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) test data and 2019 dataset of a learners’ assessmnet by Education Sector partners in Rohingya refugee camps. The aim of the this secondary review was to further contexualise the current education landscape and to idenfity and prioritise remaining research gaps. Findings with a minimum of 95% confidence level and a 10% margin of error will be presented throughout.

Primary data collection for this assessment was conducted from 15 October 2020 to 7 February 2021 through five different tools: a teacher survey, a caregiver survey, focus group discussions (FGDs) with children and youths, key informant interviews (KIIs) with caregivers, KIIs with teachers and KIIs with Education and Child Protection Sector partners, Learning Centre Management Committee (LCMC) members, and School Management Committee (SMC) members. Findings from quantitative surveys with teachers are generalisable at a 95% confidence level and a 10% margin of error at the upazila level, and a 7% margin of error at the overall level. For Rohingya caregivers, findings are generalisable at a 95% confidence level and a 10% margin of error at the upazila level, and a 6% margin of error for the refugee population, while all findings from surveys with Bangladeshi caregivers in host community are indivative of the whole population. Given the involvement of children within primary data collection, REACH created a series of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for data collection involving children, and ethical approval was given by the Institutional Review Board at the Department of Health Sciences, University of Dhaka.

This report explores findings on the effectiveness of the Education Sector in camps and host community regarding best practices and lessons learned (Thematic Brief 1). This report also gives an overview of the different profiles of students enrolled in camps and host community and focuses on the efforts and initiatives undertaken by the Education Sector to promote the inclusion of female students and students with disabilities (Thematic Brief 2).
Finally, this report also aims to identify how COVID-19 has affected learning opportunities for children, and the lessons learned emerged from this period (Thematic Brief 3).

Main trends

Effectiveness of the education response

Across all themes, it can be observed that the Education Sector’s response has been perceived as effective in providing quality services in schools and learning centres, improving during the first 3 months of 2020 the access to education services for children and youths aged 3 to 24, relative to the 2019 academic year. Caregivers and teachers’ perceptions are generally positive, with most of them having noticed improvements between 2019 and the first 3 months of 2020 in areas relating to standards and practices.

However, according to caregivers and teachers in both the camps and host community, there is still room for improvement in areas relating to resources such as environment, teaching materials, and recruitment and retaining for qualified teachers.

A large proportion of teachers in camps and host community reported their education facility had less than one teacher for every 35 students, a proportion which is slightly higher in host community.

Although the introduction of the LCFA in camps has received positive feedback from most of teachers, it has reportedly reflected some existing inequalities between different age and gender groups of students.

Inclusivity of the education response

As reported by education partner Key Informants (KIs), these are striving to ensure the access to equitable learning opportunities in a safe and protective environment. The proportion of caregivers reporting that their children aged 3 to 10 are attending education facilities is particularly high.

However, in light of findings from all quantitative surveys and qualitative components, the inclusion of female students and students with disabilities in education programming remains challenging and a priority, especially in camps.

The education response since COVID-19

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education response and education actors have had to adapt learning opportunities in order to prevent as much as possible an education gap due to students dropping out that could be caused by the closure of schools and learning centres. This response is reportedly different between the host community and camps, whose access has been limited for education actors since the beginning of the pandemic.

Most of the schools in the host community have been able to adapt and follow the government recommendations allowing most of the Bangladeshi students to continue learning. However, partners have met particular difficulties to continue learning opportunities remotely, where Rohingya students have reportedly fewer learning opportunities since the beginning of the pandemic.

Overall, COVID-19 and closures of schools and learning centres are widening inequalities and strengthening existing challenges, especially regarding female students’ attendance and economic constraints faced by households.

Key recommendations

Based on the findings of this assessment, the key trends identified through the different thematic briefs, and consultations with the Education Sector, the following key recommendations are suggested:

  • Education partners should provide guidance and support to schools and the learning centres in host communities and camps required to overcome challenges with meeting their needs in resources (also linked to following safety procedures once schools reopen). During the planning stage, advocating for participatory process would be particularly important, with caregivers of students presented to school committees as a party to be consulted.

  • Together with relevant actors and the communities, they should further the work on addressing the issue of female enrolment in host community and camps and also on the root causes of dropouts.

  • In camps and the host community, education actors should collaborate with communities, protection, health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) partners to establish more opportunities for students with disabilities in education facilities and train teachers to work with students with disabilities.

  • Work on further strategies to broaden remote learning opportunities and to improve access to learning modalities in camps until the learning centres reopen.

  • Education partners should further investigate the gaps in teaching staff quality and make an effort to improve it through relevant training of teachers, particularly in camps.

  • Once schools reopen, the education partners should focus on implementing strategies to overcome learning loss caused by the closure of schools. Additionally, there is a need to work closely with the schools to streamline the minimum safety standards to the schools and learning centres and support addressing the challenges.