Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Improving Rohingya Refugee Children’s Access to Literacy Materials

27 July 2018

by Kinana Qaddour

In June of 2018, BRAC Bangladesh and VSO Bangladesh, with the support of Artolution, facilitated a story-writing workshop with Rohingya refugee parents and teachers in the makeshift settlements of Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Locally-made materials to improve literacy of Rohingya refugee students are limited in the current stage of the EiE response.



© BRAC Bangladesh
Fiona Kirby (VSO) and Aziz Al-Hoq (BRAC), both pictured above, facilitated along with Stephen Malakar (VSO) and Suza Uddine (Artolution)
In August of 2017, the largest influx of Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh, settling in makeshift settlements of the Cox’s Bazar sub-district of Ukhiya, close to the Myanmar border. Of the over 650,000 recently displaced population, 58% are children in need of emergency education (EiE).[1]

Much of these displaced children had limited access to formal education in Rakhine state in Myanmar, impacting literacy and numeracy outcomes expected at the primary level. For children at the pre-primary level, lack of access to quality early childhood programs also has serious implications. This is the stage where emergent literacy and pre-reading skills are usually honed, as research suggests that foundations of literacy (emergent literacy) are set before children enter primary school. Additionally, a lack of exposure at this critical stage can impact reading achievement in the long-term.[2]


The Challenge

Emergent literacy refers to both written and oral language from birth and onwards to school entry. There is a spectrum of how this is developed, but it begins with access to oral language early on, transitioning to print-rich environments such as at school and at home. This include reading books to children or simple oral story-telling.[3]  Since there is currently no formal curriculum approved for use in the camps, children’s overall access to any print materials is limited. This is critical since sometimes textbooks may be the only books children have access to in general.

Reading materials would be more appropriate if developed locally with the input of educators and parents to ensure they are appropriate for non-formal learning facilitators. Many of them have both limited literacy skills and limited teaching experience, so the language used in the literacy materials must be suitable for them to deliver. Creating literacy materials collectively also provides an opportunity for contextualized materials to be developed, in particular ones that engage Rohingya children’s social, cultural, ethnic traditions and background.

Material access is only part of the problem. Language capacity and literacy rates of parents have implications on students’ access to literacy materials. Children’s literacy is impacted by parent or caregiver literacy, of which there are low levels in the camps. For those who are fluent in the Rohingya language, which does not have a written script, knowledge of written and spoken Myanmar Language, also known as Burmese, is limited. Therefore, efforts to create materials increases teacher access to materials and students access to reading opportunities. Parents also benefit from children when they bring home books and incorporate reading time at home. This is a step towards a community-based literacy model since there is a need across age groups.


Overview of the Workshop

The workshop was coordinated and facilitated by BRAC Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar, along with VSO Bangladesh and a member of Artolution.

A total of 25 learning facilitators and parents were gathered to participate in a three-hour workshop. Learning facilitators were from BRAC’s learning centers as well as parents of children enrolled in the centers. Some parent attendees were also teachers in Myanmar.

© BRAC Bangladesh
Rohingya parents and teachers participate in the writing workshop in Balukhali refugee camp on June 28, 2018
The workshop began with a discussion of the objective of the project. With one-off teacher development trainings, teachers have expressed insecurity in presenting material generally, which is understandable. One struggle is reading Burmese books to students, partly due to their struggle with articulating written Burmese to the students. This made the workshop all the more necessary, in addition to the overall lack of access to children’s storybooks in a language suitable for both teachers and students. While levels of English are low across the board, levels of (spoken) Burmese are slightly higher and closer to the Rohingya language. Regardless of the language, children need to begin having opportunities to engage books, starting from increasing print awareness[4] and book knowledge[5].

For this reason, if printed materials such as books were locally made, it would ensure that teachers are familiar with the reading materials and confident in presenting them to students through reading time, either in groups, classroom story-telling, or independent reading if the number of books suffice.

The workshop began with a short storytelling exercise in groups. They shared their favorite childhood story in small groups, some of which are widely-known and local to the culture and upbringing in Myanmar.

After sharing, a number of story props and puppets were used to initiate the discussion of character building and plot development. It was then that new groups were developed for the story-writing exercise. A total of nine groups were divided to create a total of nine short, children’s stories.  

Each group was given time to brainstorm their ideas and then write out the story sequence. A booklet was given to each group to divide their stories page by page and then suggest illustrations, which will be done by local and international volunteer artists.

After all the stories were written, one group member was given a chance to share with all workshop participants. One objective of the workshop was improving story-telling methods with children and students. Therefore, facilitators also modeled story-telling techniques to engage students and children, paying attention to intonation and tone, making text-to-life connection, asking questions and making predictions.


Outcomes and Looking Forward

© BRAC Bangladesh
Rohingya parents and teachers participate in the story-writing workshop in Balukhali refugee camp on June 28, 2018
Stories have been collected and will be shared with artists to complete the illustrations per the narrative included. After this is complete, stories will be printed and bound, and distributed as classroom materials in BRAC and VSO facilities, including VSO’s at-home learning curriculum and BRAC’s primary and pre-primary learning center activities. The possibility of providing printed copies for at-home use is also being explored. Additional workshops to develop more locally-made storybooks will also be pursued by participating organizations given the success of the workshop.

Oral story-telling platforms are limited in the camp context. With limited space, the majority is being allocated for hospitals, clinics, and family shelter.  Space for community centers and learning centers, and child-friendly spaces, where parents, teachers, and children can have access to oral story-telling and books is rare and makes such gatherings unique and impactful.

The enthusiasm of participants, including both male and female caregivers, is indicative of the appetite for story-telling and writing, regardless of education or literacy level of participants. Also, it demonstrates the community is interested in taking proactive steps in increasing children’s access to reading and literacy materials. This is one step forward in developing community-based models of literacy support to enhance both child and parent literacy.


The opinions of the blog represent the author's only and should not be seen as the opinion of the BRAC Bangladesh, VSO Bangladesh, or Artolution.

Kinana Qaddour is the Education Technical Lead for BRAC Bangladesh’s Humanitarian Crisis Management Program.


[1] Assessment: Rohingya Refugee in Cox’s Bazar (p.6).

[2] Save the Children US Department of Education and Child Development. Emergent Literacy, Investing Early for Exponential Outcomes.

[3] Save the Children US Department of Education and Child Development. Emergent Literacy, Investing Early for Exponential Outcomes.

[4] Understanding functions of printed symbols and printed texts (Save the Children- Emergent Literacy, Investing Early for Exponential Outcomes)

[5] Understanding what a book is and how it is to be used or read (Save the Children- Emergent Literacy, Investing Early for Exponential Outcomes)