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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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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