Decline in education for Syrian children "worst and fastest in region's history"

Press Releases, 13 December 2013

GENEVA/NEW YORK/AMMAN, 13 December 2013- The decline in education for Syrian children has been the sharpest and most rapid in the history of the region, according to a new paper published today.

"Education Interrupted" highlights that since 2011 nearly 3 million children from Syria have been forced to quit their education as fighting has destroyed classrooms, left children too terrified to go to school, or seen families flee the country. Progress achieved over decades has been reversed in under three years.

The paper is the first attempt to quantify the full extent of the staggering decline in education in a country where primary school attendance rates stood at 97 per cent before the conflict began in 2011.

More than 1,000 days of bloodshed in Syria have seen millions of children lose their education, schools and teachers.

At best, children are getting sporadic education. At worst, they drop out of schools and are forced to work to support their families.

Inside Syria, 1 in every 5 schools cannot be used because they have been damaged, destroyed or are sheltering internally displaced persons, says the paper. In countries hosting Syrian refugees, between 500,000- 600,000 Syrian refugee children are out of school.

The worst affected areas inside Syria are those where fierce violence is taking place including A-Raqqa, Idlib, Aleppo, Deir Ezzour, Hama, Dara'a and Rural Damascus. In some of these areas attendance rates have plummeted to as low as 6 per cent .

Syria was a regional leader in education enrolment before the conflict, yet in less than three years the sharpest regression in education of anywhere in the region occurred with dire consequences for the future.

The paper details some of the factors that have contributed to the rapid emptying of classrooms.

Inside Syria, intensifying violence, large population displacement, the killing and flight of teachers and the destruction and mis-use of schools have all made learning more difficult for children. Many parents report that they have no option but to keep their children at home rather than risk sending them to school.

In neighbouring countries different language and dialect, different curricula, limited or no learning spaces, physical safety, poverty, and community tensions are keeping children away from classes. Meanwhile, children and teachers from host communities are faced with over-crowded classrooms and increased pressure on education systems.

The paper also sets out critical actions that if taken now could reverse the slide. These include:

  • Protection of education infrastructure inside Syria including ending the use of schools for military purposes, declaring schools as zones of peace, and holding accountable those parties to the conflict who violate the protection of schools.
  • Doubling of international investment for education in host countries to expand and improve learning spaces, recruit additional teachers and slash the costs of getting children into classrooms.
  • Innovative approaches to overcome education needs of Syrian refugee children through such as transferrable certification for refugee students.
  • Scaling up proven models such as home-based learning, non-formal learning centres and child-friendly spaces that provide psychosocial support for children

For more information, please contact:

  • Juliette Touma, UNICEF, +962 79 867 4628, jtouma@unicef.org
  • Marixie Mercado, UNICEF,+41 22 909 5716; Mobile +41 79 756 7703, mmercado@unicef.org

Read "Syria Crisis: Education Interrupted"

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Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

The Charcoal Boys: Child Labour in Lebanon

Bebnine is one of many small towns in northern Lebanon that have seen an influx of Syrian refugees in recent months. Many of the new residents are children, whose education has been disrupted. A lot of them must work to support their families instead of studying to lay the foundations for a bright future. This set of photographs by Andrew McConnell, documents one group of boys who risk their health by working for a charcoal seller in Bebnine. Aged between 11 and 15 years old, they earn the equivalent of less than 70 US cents an hour filling, weighing and carrying sacks of charcoal. It's hard work and after an average eight-hour day they are covered in charcoal dust. Throughout the region, an estimated one in ten Syrian refugee children is engaged in child labour.

The Charcoal Boys: Child Labour in Lebanon

For Starters, a Tent: A Syrian Teacher Opens a School in Jordan

In the semi-rural area of Kherbet Al-Souk, on the outskirts of Amman, Syrian refugees struggling to get their children into crowded state schools have taken matters into their own hands. They have set up a simple school in their small informal settlement of about 500 refugees. The families had lived in Za'atri or Al-Aghwar camps, but moved out to be closer to other relatives and to access basic services in the capital. But ensuring education for all refugee children in Jordan has proved difficult for the government and its partners, including UNHCR. According to the UN, more than half of all Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not in school. In Kherbet Al-Souk, the refugee-run school consists of a large tent where the students sit on the ground with their text books. All of the students take classes together with the younger children in the front. Before, they spent a lot of time playing, but they were not learning anything. One refugee, Jamal, decided to do something about it. Photographer Shawn Baldwin met Jamal and visited the school in a tent. These are some of the images he took.

For Starters, a Tent: A Syrian Teacher Opens a School in Jordan

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