Rohingya Children in India: Access to Education and the Quest for a Better Future

Rohingya Children in India: Access to Education and the Quest for a Better Future

Article by Monika Verma

Abstract: This article endeavors to illuminate the educational challenges faced by Rohingya children living as refugees in India and their aspirations for a brighter future. The Rohingya community, displaced from Myanmar due to persecution, has sought refuge in various countries, including India, where children encounter various barriers to accessing quality education. This study employs a qualitative approach to explore the nuanced factors affecting Rohingya children’s educational opportunities. The article delves into issues such as limited access to formal schooling, language barriers, and the impact of socio-economic conditions on their learning experiences. Additionally, the study investigates the role of community initiatives and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in shaping educational prospects for Rohingya children. By shedding light on these dynamics, the article aims to contribute insights that can inform targeted interventions and policy improvements to ensure inclusive and equitable access to education for Rohingya children, thereby fostering their quest for a better and more promising future.

Keywords: Rohingya children, access to education, community initiatives

Header Image: Rohingya Restored by AK RockefellerCreative Common CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED



The Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority residing in the Rakhine state, have been widely acknowledged as one of the most persecuted, vulnerable, and oppressed communities globally (Holliday, 2014; Mohajan, 2018; UNHCR, 2018). The ongoing plight of the Rohingya stems from systemic restrictions and human rights violations imposed upon them, primarily due to their denial of citizenship and the rise of Buddhist nationalism (Zahed, 2021). They have faced numerous crackdowns in Rakhine since the 1970s, compelling them to seek refuge in neighboring countries; with India being one of the destinations for those fleeing persecution (Zahed, 2021). The exodus has resulted in a significant number of Rohingya refugees, exceeding one million individuals spread across refugee camps globally (Rajan, 2022). Official data from the Indian government estimates the presence of approximately 40,000 Rohingya individuals within the country (Abbas & Hemadri, 2022). However, discrepancies arise when considering data from UNHCR and non-profit entities. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 20,000 Rohingyas have been officially registered as refugees in India (Human Rights Watch, 2022). As of January 31, 2022, UNHCR India has registered over 46,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, predominantly originating from Myanmar and Afghanistan (UNHCR Australia, 2022). These individuals predominantly reside in urban areas, coexisting with local host communities. Among the registered refugee population, 46% are women and girls, while children constitute 36% of the total (UNHCR Australia, 2022).

The influx of Rohingya refugees into India has brought attention to the urgent need for addressing their complex and pressing challenges, with a specific focus on the educational and human rights dimensions. As a marginalized community, the Rohingya children face significant hurdles in accessing education, contributing to the perpetuation of cycles of poverty and vulnerability. The denial of refugee rights by the state exacerbates their vulnerability, limiting their access to formal education, healthcare, and legal protection (The Asian Age, 2018). This article will focus on the challenges of Rohingya children in accessing quality education in India. Rohingya children encounter formidable barriers to education. These hurdles, including limited access to formal schooling, language barriers, and the impact of socio-economic conditions, present substantial obstacles to their educational development. Addressing these challenges is crucial not only for the immediate well-being of these children but also for the long-term prospects of the Rohingya community. This article aims to shed light on the intricate web of challenges faced by Rohingya children in accessing education in India. By utilizing a qualitative approach, incorporating qualitative interviews with Rohingya in 2021 and 2022, the article  presents a comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing their educational opportunities.

Educational Challenges Faced by Rohingya Children

A. Limited Access to Formal Schooling

Enrollment of Rohingya children in public schools poses considerable challenges, primarily stemming from various impediments. The absence of proper documentation, coupled with discriminatory practices and a lack of familiarity with the Indian education system, compounds these difficulties (Rajan, 2022). The Rohingya community is classified as  “illegal migrants” by the state, resulting in a dearth of official documentation (Verma, 2022). The UNHCR refugee card serves as the sole identity proof for this marginalized group. However, this card is not recognized as a valid document for admission into government schools, exacerbating the struggle for Rohingya parents attempting to enroll their children in formal education. The lack of legal identity documents hampers the integration of Rohingya children into the Indian education system, as their refugee card is often dismissed as an acceptable credential. 

To address these challenges, the Rohingya population heavily relies on the support of organizations such as the UNHCR, Save the Children, and the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative to facilitate the enrollment of their children in government schools. Collaborative efforts with these organizations have enabled some Rohingya children to access education. Despite the adversities, private schools offer a comparatively more accessible avenue for education than government schools. However, concerns persist about the affordability of private education, as not every Rohingya family can bear the associated expenses. The consequence of this systemic barrier is a substantial number of Rohingya children being denied access to formal education, impeding their ability to assimilate into the society they now consider their home. Addressing these challenges necessitates a concerted effort to develop comprehensive and inclusive educational policies that consider the unique circumstances of the Rohingya.

B. Language Barriers

Language presents a formidable barrier to the effective education of Rohingya children, adding a layer of complexity to their educational journey. The unique linguistic background of Rohingya children, whose mother tongue differs from the local languages in India, creates significant challenges in both understanding instructional content and expressing themselves effectively. This linguistic divergence can result in a profound sense of alienation within the educational environment.

The lack of language proficiency among Rohingya children not only impacts their academic performance but also hampers their overall educational experience. In classrooms where the medium of instruction is often a language unfamiliar to them, these children may struggle to comprehend lessons, engage in meaningful discussions, and articulate their thoughts coherently. This language barrier not only affects their grasp of core subjects but also impedes their ability to participate actively in extracurricular activities and social interactions within the school community. Furthermore, the challenge extends beyond the classroom, affecting communication between Rohingya students, their peers, and teachers. The inability to effectively communicate may lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, hindering the development of meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging within the school environment.

Addressing the language barrier is crucial not only for improving academic outcomes but also for fostering a supportive and inclusive educational environment. Implementing language support programs, such as language immersion initiatives and specialized language courses, can aid in bridging this gap. Additionally, creating a culturally sensitive curriculum that incorporates the linguistic diversity of the Rohingya community can contribute to a more inclusive educational experience, allowing these children to navigate the academic landscape with greater confidence and efficacy.

C. Socio-Economic Conditions

The educational obstacles faced by Rohingya families are significantly intensified by the prevailing socio-economic conditions. A considerable number of Rohingya engage in daily-wage occupations, including roles such as rag pickers, laborers, and working in small food and grocery establishments. Earning a meager monthly income, ranging between 5,000 to 10,000 rupees, they are confronted with the challenge of covering essential expenses such as rent for their makeshift shelters, electricity, water, and other domestic necessities. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated their financial predicament, depleting any savings they might have had. As a result, the Rohingya community grapples not only with the immediate health repercussions of the pandemic but also with the enduring economic ramifications, making access to education an even more formidable challenge for the children.

Many families struggle with poverty, limiting their capacity to provide essential resources for their children’s education. This creates a cycle where economic hardships hinder educational opportunities, leading to a perpetuation of poverty. The financial constraints faced by many Rohingya families make it challenging to send their children to private schools, exacerbating existing barriers to education. Consequently, Rohingya families grapple with the economic burden of education, particularly when compelled to provide additional funds, often in the form of bribes, to secure school admission. This unfortunate reality adds an extra layer of complexity to the already challenging economic circumstances faced by the Rohingya community. Mitigating financial barriers, ensuring equitable access to quality education, and eliminating corrupt practices in the admission process are crucial steps toward empowering Rohingya children with the education they deserve, and fostering a more inclusive and just society. Recognition and accommodation of the unique circumstances of the Rohingya community are imperative to ensure that every child has the opportunity to pursue education and contribute meaningfully to their adopted society.


Image:  Myanmar/Burma: Bringing Education to Rohingya Camp by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED


Nuanced Factors Affecting Educational Opportunities

A. Cultural and Social Dynamics

Cultural adjustments, encompassing variations in teaching styles and curriculum, exert a profound impact on the ability of Rohingya children to effectively engage with the educational system. The unfamiliarity with the nuances of the Indian education system adds another  layer of complexity to their ongoing educational predicament. The process of adapting to a new cultural and educational environment involves navigating teaching methodologies and curriculum structures that may differ significantly from those in their home country or transit country. This cultural shift poses challenges for Rohingya children, affecting not only their comprehension of academic content but also influencing their overall educational experience. The need to align with unfamiliar teaching styles can be particularly daunting, potentially leading to feelings of disconnection and hinder academic performance.

Moreover, the dynamics within the Rohingya community itself, along with the level of support or resistance encountered, play a pivotal role in shaping the educational experiences of these children. Within the community, there have been instances where socio-economic pressures have forced young boys to prematurely terminate their studies, compelling them to seek employment to contribute to the family’s financial well-being. In some cases, the practical necessity of earning a livelihood has taken precedence over the pursuit of education, reflecting the complex interplay between socio-economic factors and educational aspirations.

A poignant sentiment expressed by a Rohingya individual captures the essence of these challenges: “Education is necessary and important, but feeding the stomach of each member of the family is our responsibility [1].” This underscores the harsh reality faced by many Rohingya families, where the immediate imperative of meeting basic needs often takes precedence over the pursuit of education. This complex interplay between familial obligations and educational aspirations highlights the intricate web of challenges that Rohingya children navigate in their quest for a better future.

In addressing these multifaceted challenges, it becomes imperative to implement culturally sensitive educational approaches, provide targeted support for acculturation, and develop strategies that recognize the delicate balance between educational aspirations and socio-economic realities within the Rohingya community. Such initiatives can contribute to fostering an educational environment that is not only accessible but also conducive to the holistic development of Rohingya children, empowering them to overcome cultural and socio-economic barriers on their educational journey.

B. Gender Disparities

Gender disparities within the Rohingya community intersect with a myriad of educational challenges, perpetuating a complex web of inequalities. Deep-rooted cultural norms often prioritize the education of boys over girls, resulting in limited opportunities for female Rohingya children to pursue their academic aspirations. Unfortunately, instances have been documented where Rohingya girls have had to confront the harsh reality of truncated educational journeys, as parental decisions, influenced by various factors, including economic constraints, have led to the cessation of their schooling.

The intricate intersection of gender and education is particularly pronounced within the Rohingya community, where socio-cultural norms can shape and restrict the educational trajectories of girls. Economic considerations often emerge as a predominant factor in these decisions, reflecting the harsh realities faced by Rohingya families struggling to meet basic needs. In some cases, the necessity to allocate limited resources, coupled with societal expectations, leads to the prioritization of boys’ education at the expense of their female counterparts.

Recognizing and addressing these deeply entrenched gender dynamics are imperative for creating educational interventions that are truly inclusive and equitable. Understanding the nuances of the challenges faced by female Rohingya children is essential to dismantling barriers and fostering an environment where every child, regardless of gender, has equal access to educational opportunities. It requires not only challenging prevailing cultural norms but also implementing targeted initiatives that address economic constraints and promote the value of educating girls within the Rohingya community. Moreover, interventions should extend beyond the realm of formal education to include awareness programs that emphasize the long-term benefits of educating girls, both for the individual and the community as a whole. Empowering Rohingya girls through education not only contributes to their personal development but also has broader positive implications for community well-being, breaking the cycle of gender-based disparities and fostering a more equitable and inclusive society. In this context, acknowledging and dismantling the gender-based barriers within the Rohingya community becomes a crucial step towards ensuring that every child, regardless of gender, can access and benefit from education as a fundamental right.

Initiatives and Support System

A. Community Initiatives

Acknowledging the urgency of the situation, numerous community-led initiatives have sprouted, showcasing the resilience and agency within the Rohingya community. These grassroots efforts go beyond immediate concerns, delving into the creation of informal educational spaces, offering crucial language support, and addressing specific challenges faced by Rohingya children. Exemplifying the proactive approach within the Rohingya community, community leaders and older members have taken the initiative to establish dedicated learning spaces within the settlements (such as Madanpur Khadar, Faridabad, Nuh, etc). In these spaces, they undertake the crucial task of imparting religious teachings, language proficiency, and various other essential skills to Rohingya children. These community-led educational endeavors specifically emphasize language skills development, aiming to foster better integration and improved learning outcomes for the younger generation. This grassroots effort underscores the commitment of the community’s elder members to provide a holistic and culturally relevant educational experience for the Rohingya children, ensuring their well-rounded development.

B. Role of UNHCR and other NGOs

UNHCR has played a crucial role in advancing Rohingya education, collaborating with esteemed partner organizations in India, including Bosco Organizations for Social Concern and Operation (BOSCO), Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC), Save the Children India (SCI), Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI), along with independent organizations like Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (ROHRIngya), Global Peace Foundation of India, Zakat Foundation of India, Human Rights Law Network, Jamiyat Ulama-i-hind, Jamat Islam, and Human Welfare Foundation. Through targeted initiatives, these organizations offer valuable resources, teacher training, and infrastructure support. For instance, projects led by UNHCR, such as the “Rohingya Learning Center,” have been established, creating a secure and nurturing environment for educational activities to thrive [2].


The educational challenges faced by Rohingya children have profound implications for their future and the broader Rohingya community. Failing to address these challenges not only hampers individual development but also perpetuates cycles of poverty and marginalization. Immediate interventions are required to address the pressing issues identified. These include targeted support for language learning, effective community-led initiatives, and policy changes to create an inclusive educational environment. Long-term recommendations emphasize sustained efforts to break the cycle of poverty and marginalization through education. The urgency of addressing Rohingya children’s educational needs cannot be overstated. A call to action is extended to international organizations, local governments, NGOs, and the broader community to collaborate in ensuring that Rohingya children have equitable access to quality education, paving the way for a better and more promising future.

In conclusion, as we reflect on the challenges faced by Rohingya children in their pursuit of education in India, it is paramount to underscore a fundamental truth: children should not bear the burdens of war or conflict. This powerful statement encapsulates the essence of our shared responsibility to uplift, support, and advocate for the educational rights of Rohingya children. Each child deserves the opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute to a brighter future, unburdened by the adversities imposed by circumstances beyond their control. By recognizing the importance of inclusive policies, community initiatives, and collaborative efforts with NGOs, we can pave the way for a more equitable and compassionate world—one where every child, regardless of their background, can access the transformative power of education. Together, let us strive to create a future where the hopes and dreams of Rohingya children are not just aspirations but tangible realities, free from the shadows of conflict, and filled with the promise of a better tomorrow.


  1. This statement was expressed by a Rohingya individual residing in Delhi during one of the interviews conducted in 2021.
  2. Retrieved from:


Abbas, T., & Hemadri, R. (2022). Rohingya refugees in India. In S. I. Rajan (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Refugees in India (pp. 1–893). Taylor and Francis.

Holliday, I. (2014). Addressing Myanmar’s Citizenship Crisis. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 44(3), 404–421.

Human Rights Watch. (2022, March 31). India: Rohingya Deported to Myanmar Face Danger. Human Rights Watch.

Mohajan, H. (2018). History of Rakhine State and the Origin of the Rohingya Muslims (No. 88186).

Rajan, S. I. (2022). The Routledge Handbook of Refugees in India. The Routledge Handbook of Refugees in India, 1–893.

The Asian Age. (2018, August 1). All Rohingyas in India are illegal migrants, says Kiren Rijiju. The Asian Age.

UNHCR. (2018, April 25). Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Learn the Facts. UNHCR.

UNHCR Australia. (2022). India. UNHCR Australia.

Verma, M. (2022). The Plight of Rohingya Refugees in India: Living in Denial. Asia Review, 12(3), 479–504.

Zahed, I. U. M. (2021). The State against the Rohingya: Root Causes of the Expulsion of Rohingya from Myanmar. Https://Doi.Org/10.1080/21567689.2021.1995716, 22(3–4), 436–460.