Lifelong learning in a refugee camp
"Our challenge is to guarantee the right to education, lifelong learning and wellbeing of more than 370.000 refugee children”, says education in emergencies expert, Henry Renna Gallano. He is one of 20 NORCAP deployees currently working in the Bangladesh refugee camps. “It is a tall order”, he admits.
Henry Renna Gallano sits in a classroom full of children in the new spontaneous sites in Kutupalong, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Most of the children here arrived in Bangladesh less than two weeks earlier, having escaped horrible conditions and human rights violations in Myanmar.
“450.000 children between the ages of four and 14 need assistance, according to the humanitarian response plan. Our target is to reach 370.000 of them”, Gallano says.
He is deployed from NORCAP to support UNICEF as an education in emergencies expert. Working with capacity building in UNICEF’s education section, he also tries to make sure the implementing partners have the right skills to give refugee children a quality education.
His day to day work consists of monitoring the non-formal learning centres and support partners in their capacity building of teachers and technical staff. In addition, he is involved in improving the scale up and quality of the service.
“We try to link education with other sectors, especially child protection, gender, nutrition and health . The main contribution I try to make here is to link the rapid response with the long term perspective”, he explains.
Available and adaptable education Today there are approximately 250 learning centres in the camps, run by UNICEF and Save the Children. The goal is to have 350.000 children attend classes, which means building another 2000 learning centres.
While getting the actual structures up and recruiting teachers are vital, Henry Renna Gallano says the most important thing is to make the learning centres a place where refugee children learn skills and values that will be useful in their future lives.
The learning centres help to reduce health risks and child mortality by providing safe spaces for the children, and teaching them how to combat life-threatening diseases by having proper hygiene.
“We also look at providing an education that can contribute to reduce poverty by teaching them job skills, improving girls’ awareness of their rights and giving all adolescents and youths the tools they need to exercise their rights and empower themselves”, he says.
In order to make sure that as many refugee children as possible get the education they need, there are a few principles that need to be in place. Gallano calls it the 5As. The 5A’s to the right to education were developed by the former UN special rapporteur on the Right to Education, Katarina Tomasevski, and is a useful way to link emergency with early recovery and development.
Firstly, availability: education should be free, with adequate infrastructure and trained teachers. Secondly, learning centres must be accessible and non-discriminatory to all. Thirdly, acceptability means the content of the education should be relevant and culturally appropriate. Adaptability means the centres should evolve with changing needs and adapt locally to suit different contexts. Finally accountability means working with local, national and international communities to make a sustainable service.
“All of these dimensions must be addressed and articulated simultaneously. We are not going to succeed in guaranteeing the right to education unless we take a holistic approach and realise that they all go hand in hand”, Gallano says.
"Those who are educated will improve their lives"
He sits down next to some of the boys in the classroom. Six-year-old Muhammed Imran and his friends show the NORCAP expert their writing. They have been practicing English letters. The children learn English and Burmese in the learning centres and they shout back the name of each letter as Gallano writes it down.
"This is a B", he says. "Beeee!", shout the young boys and laugh.
"I like school, especially reading. I used to go to school in Myanmar also, and I want to become a teacher when I grow up", six-year-old Muhammed Imran says. He has five brothers and a sister, and lives with his siblings and parents in a tent just a stone's throw away from one of the UNICEF learning centres.
"Children like to learn. We make sure they also go to the Quran school. Those who are educated can better understand other people's feelings and will improve their lives", says Khamal Hussein, Muhammed's father.
Although most children and parents see the value of education, there are various factors keeping many from achieving their goal of going to school.
"Social norms and safety issues affect adolescent girls' access to education and boys are kept out because they need to help their families earn money and get a livelihood. A lot of families also move within the camps looking for better conditions, which makes it difficult for children to stay in the learning centres", Henry Renna Gallano says.
Despite that, more than 32.000 children are attending early learning and non-formal basic education through 250 learning centres. They are trying to get some normalcy back into their lives while they wait for what will happen next.
"In an emergency, it is especially important to make sure we have safe and protective spaces for all girls and boys. We need to provide psycho-social support and give them an opportunity to understand what is happening to them. At the same time we need to give them basic life skills and link education to other rights, so that they can move forward and begin a new life", Henry Renna Gallano explains.