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BRAC Play-Based Learning Centers
What are BRAC Play-Based Learning Centers?
Hamida Akhter Jahan, BRAC Psychosocial Counselor
Nearly one million displaced Rohingya are living in crowded settlements in the Cox’s Bazar district of southern Bangladesh, having fled persecution in Myanmar. Violence against the Rohingya has persisted for decades, but the mass exodus starting in August 2017 is now considered the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, affecting hundreds of thousands of children and their families.
The majority of the newly displaced Rohingya are children, and almost 20 percent are under the age of five. Many of these children arrived in Cox’s Bazar unaccompanied.
In emergency and humanitarian contexts like Cox’s Bazar, children are extremely vulnerable to abuse, violence, and trafficking. It is vital to provide these children – and their caregivers – with psychosocial support, safe spaces, and playful early learning and stimulation opportunities that help address trauma, support healthy development, provide a sense of routine and normalcy, restore cultural pride, and improve access to education.
To address some of these children’s most pressing needs, BRAC has established Play-Based Learning Centers, which adapt BRAC's signature low cost, high quality education model to the unique needs and constraints of the humanitarian context, both in the Rohingya settlements and in the host communities surrounding the camps.
In order to build resilience and establish a sense of normalcy for children and adolescents in this fragile setting, the Learning Centers offer basic primary education for children aged 4-14, with an emphasis on learning through structured, play-based activities. For many Rohingya children, the Learning Centers are their first opportunity to gain access to education, or their first chance to be in a learning environment where teachers are attentive to their needs. The curriculum focuses on basic math, science, and literacy in Burmese and English, as well as life skills, physical play, rhymes, and stories.
The Learning Centers also pay homage to Rohingya cultural heritage by utilizing traditional Rohingya songs, games, and activities and engaging mothers and community members in creating low-cost, culturally relevant play materials to support children’s language, motor, cognitive, and socio-emotional development.
BRAC Play-Based Learning Centers provide holistic support for Rohingya children. They incorporate child protection measures; link children to health, nutrition, and other services; and host parenting sessions that do the same. They also offer comprehensive psychosocial support through group sessions and individual home visits conducted by over 230 barefoot counselors and 40 para-counselors.
Each session in a BRAC Learning Center is jointly led by women from the Rohingya community and women from the host community, who speak a dialect of Bangla similar to the Rohingya language. This model trains and empowers Rohingya women, and promotes person-to-person peacebuilding between the communities, which is critical in addressing tensions that are arising over strained resources.
Founded in Bangladesh in 1972 as a small relief effort, BRAC is now one of the largest development organizations in the world. BRAC Play-Based Learning Centers build on the organization's expertise as one of the world’s leading education providers for marginalized children, with more than 11 million graduates and over a million current learners.
With over four decades of experience working in nearly every corner of Bangladesh, BRAC has a deep knowledge of the context and strong relationships with local communities. As a result, when the refugee crisis began, BRAC mobilized resources from across the country in a matter of days. Currently, its nearly 2,000 staff in Cox’s Bazar provide a range of services in addition to its learning centers including shelter, nutrition, health, water, sanitation, and protection, in collaboration with UN agencies, governments, and other NGOs.
BRAC has identified the need for a long-term, sustainable model of child protection and education across multiple humanitarian contexts, and is currently creating a toolkit that will enable its Play-Based Learning Center model to be contextualized and adapted for other humanitarian and emergency contexts around the globe.