Skip to main content

Using apps to fill the gaps: bringing education to Rohingya refugees

For almost 700,000 refugees, Cox’s Bazar in eastern Bangladesh is all they have to call home. For those arriving – with more than half being children – lasting trauma and a lack of education continues to define their future.

Growing up in nearby Chittagong opened the eyes of VSO ICS volunteer Samiul Chowdhury, 24, to the cause. He’s now hoping to use his ICS experience and passion for technology to support a generation of refugee children to access education. 

I started my ICS journey in 2017. I loved the concept – Bangladeshi and UK volunteers working side-by-side to improve communities.  As the last cycle of volunteers in Bagerhat, in the south west, we were carrying on the work of previous groups – while thinking about how to make sure our work would continue long after we left. Our work was varied. We’d be supporting with everything from helping young entrepreneurs learn bookkeeping skills to securing training for smallholder farmers. Despite the fact the community members all had different aspirations, it was their passion for education that linked us together. 

Samiul's ICS experience enabled him to apply to volunteer with the Rohingya
© Samiul Ehsan Chowdhury
Samiul's ICS experience enabled him to apply to volunteer with the Rohingya

Education is the safe space they need 

Many NGOs are working with the Rohingya people on improving sanitation and health, but very few on education – despite the fact over half of all refugees are children.  For many of these children, they lost relatives in this tragic conflict. With a lifetime of trauma behind them, they’re more at risk than others of physical and sexual violence and exploitation by armed groups. Keeping these children safe from harm and fear is the responsibility of all of us. 

Giving them an education, isn’t just about the present – it’s about the future. Without it, they become less connected to the world – less able to develop in those crucial first stages of life. 
Samiul Ehsan Chowdhury
VSO ICS, Bagerhat, 2017
Samiul Ehsan Chowdhury

Education is that safe space. While learning, they can forget the past. And giving them an education, isn’t just about the present – it’s about the future. If children get that chance, then when the crisis is over, they can support their family and their own people as a whole. They can be society’s leaders and raise their voice for their community. Without it, they become less connected to the world – less able to develop in those crucial first stages of life. 
 

But our challenge lies in helping families understand the importance of education. Many refugees will ask us why instead of offering food and sanitation, we want to teach their children. It’s our duty to show that it’s necessary to have both. And the benefits go far beyond the child. From helping unwell relatives know how to access medical treatment to making families aware of their rights, education creates basic life skills that determine survival.  

Education is power, and it’s a necessity in order to see the world in a different way and develop opinions. When I see children deprived of this basic need, I feel for how much they’re losing. 

Rehena Basar, 25, and her children spent six days on the road after the army destroyed their house
© VSO/Abir Abdullah
Rehena Basar, 25, and her children spent six days on the road after the army destroyed their house

Using apps to fill the gaps 

But this is where technology comes in. As a Computer Science graduate, I’ve always felt passionately about how technology is making it easier for people to access information and knowledge.  

The responsibility falls on mothers like Sufia Jahan, 22, to educate the children. Samiul hopes to volunteer to use technology as a learning aid
© VSO/Abir Abdullah
The responsibility falls on mothers like Sufia Jahan, 22, to educate the children. Samiul hopes to volunteer to use technology as a learning aid in the home

I’ve been shortlisted to spend six months volunteering with VSO as an ICT in Education specialist with the Rohingya refugees. In the role, I’d be developing Android mobile applications to teach children, through animations and visuals, basic educational skills like the alphabet and how to read and write. As a volunteer, I could be working with mothers and sisters within the Rohingya community to help educate their three to 14-year-olds.
 

I’ve seen in so many families the responsibility fall on the women to teach the children during those early learning years. By providing support to those women to teach their children more effectively, everyone benefits. Introducing technology is just the logical next step – after all, children are able to pick it up so easily. Technology makes the learning process easier, the visuals make them curious. It makes education enjoyable. 
 

The Rohingya have had bad experiences with people. But with volunteers taking an interest in their education, they’ll understand that some people are trying to help them. They’ll be able to reconnect with people in a better way and change how they see their future. 

Mobile apps provide an innovative way to help accelerate learning for the Rohingya
© VSO/Andrew Aitchison
Mobile apps provide an innovative way to help accelerate learning for the Rohingya

Volunteering developed me as a human  

I’ve always loved volunteering and I’ve always seen it as part of my future. Because I’ve worked in this community I understand the Rohingya better than volunteers from other parts of Bangladesh. As a graduate with professional experience, I’ve got the knowledge to help make technology accessible. ICS taught me to do this – being a team player, being flexible, and being motivated.   

Before ICS, I was less aware of society and what was going on with other people less fortunate than me. Now I’m more aware and motivated to help. Volunteering has developed me as a human. 

The Rohingya crisis is real and I believe young people all over the world need to see what’s happening. By depriving their people of an education, we deprive them of a future. 

 


Support child refugees

VSO are working to provide a place of normality away from the desperation of everyday life in the camp – and to recover from trauma through art and play. These Child Friendly Spaces will give children vital education, and school supplies such as crayons and books to support their learning.

You can support this work by donating today