Many educators teaching diverse students report that they do not receive enough cultural background information on their students. If you are teaching Rohingya students, it is important to be aware of newcomers’ backgrounds. The information below is meant to provide an overview of key highlights, so you develop culturally responsive teaching strategies that are in tune with your students’ unique learning styles. This cultural information was developed for teachers, but it can be used by anyone working or interacting with newcomer families.
Here is some cultural information to help educators and other professionals or volunteers who are working with refugee, immigrant, and asylum-seeking families. This page is about Rohingya students in the USA.
Teaching in the classroom
Burma (Myanmar) has suffered civil war, political oppression and ethnic conflict since the 1950s. Burma includes over 100 different ethnic minority groups. The Rohingya are an ethnic and religious minority from Rakhine (also called Arakan) state in Myanmar. Many thousands of Rohingya are internally displaced within Burma, where they are persecuted and killed, or in refugee camps in Bangladesh, where conditions are dire.
According to the Arakan Project, over 60% of Rohingya children have never been to school due to poverty, government restrictions on their movement, and lack of schools. In addition, over 70% of heads of households report having no formal education.
The few students that were able to attend schools typically were allowed to attend for half a day and went to under-resourced schools. Most students do not have textbooks, and government-funded teachers often do not receive pay. Rohingya students are also not allowed to attend universities in Burma. Some Rohingya communities have started mosques and religious schools in their villages.
Students living in refugee camps or as IDPs generally do not have any opportunities to attend school—the Bangladeshi government does not permit secondary schools in camps. Today international aid organizations are currently working to increase educational opportunities for Rohingya in camps. These schools have about equal enrollment of male and female students.
Rohingya parents repeatedly state that more than anything, the one thing they want for their children is an education. However, most Rohingya parents have never attended school, know little about American systems, and tend to supervise children less than American parents. Additionally, girls’ education is not traditionally valued, and girls are typically taken out of school at puberty.
Rohingya in the US are often disconnected from other refugees from Burma due to historical persecution, so you will want to be aware that your Rohingya family may be dealing with more isolation than other groups. Some women may be fearful of leaving home by themselves so it is best to invite the entire family to school events. Rohingya children are often expected to work at an early age due to family economic needs so parents will need to understand why getting an education is important for their later economic success.
It is important to keep in mind that many refugees do not know how to drive or lack access to a car, so transportation to school events will be a challenge even if parents want to be involved.
Culture, gender and family
Traditionally, most Rohingya were farmers. Due to discrimination and laws preventing them from land ownership, many Rohingya in Burma are landless.
Rohingya typically have a strong social bond that comes from their Islamic faith; community members work together to support one another such as providing food to families in need and helping the poor.
The majority of Rohingya follow a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam. Men typically have beards, and most women wear a hijab. It may be difficult for your students to adjust to co-ed classrooms.
Schools should make an effort to provide space and time for students to pray during the day. Traditionally, men pray in congregations and women pray at home. Rohingya culture also has a strong Indian influence especially in regards to food and music.
Rohingya women and girls are subject to serious gender-based restrictions due to societal attitudes and conservative interpretations of religious norms in their male-dominated community. The birth of a son is generally favored. Women and adolescent girls typically remain in their homes and are discouraged from participating in the economic sphere. Women are excluded from decision-making in community matters. Divorced women and widows are often looked down upon. Arranged marriages often operate successfully among Rohingyas, but forced marriages are not uncommon.
Print this information as a PDF
You can download and print this Rohingya learner profile as a PDF and keep it as a resource in your classroom.
Sign up for our online professional development class or find cultural background information about refugees and asylum seekers – useful for professional educators and anyone who wants to support newcomer families.