By David Youngmeyer
Damascus/Amman, 12 November 2013 – Despite extraordinary challenges associated with the on-going conflict, UNICEF-supported school clubs in Syria have reached close to 290,000 children with remedial education and recreation activities.
The conflict is taking a serious toll on school infrastructure, limiting education opportunities for children across the country. Over 4,000 schools — or one in five — are either damaged or destroyed, or being used to shelter displaced families.
Many children have lost one or even two years of schooling, while others have dropped out with little chance of a return to school or benefitting from alternative learning opportunities. Since the last school year, as many as one million children in Syria have dropped out of school.
To address urgent education needs, UNICEF, along with the Ministry of Education and other partners, are running hundreds of school clubs around the country. The school clubs provide an opportunity for children aged 5-18 to participate in remedial classes and benefit from psychosocial support through recreational activities such as sports and music, while under the care of qualified teachers and counsellors.
Some school clubs operate in a school compound, while others provide their activities in centres run by an NGO, or in shelters for displaced families.
The generosity of the State of Kuwait has allowed the provision of essential educational support for children in Syria – including in hard-to-reach, conflict-affected areas such as in rural Homs.
“The school clubs aim to improve children’s learning performance and prevent children from dropping out, or help them to re-enter school,” says Tomoya Sonoda, UNICEF Syria Education Specialist.
UNICEF, along with the Ministry of Education and the sector partners, has established more than 830 school clubs to enable 287,000 children to access remedial catch-up classes and recreational activities in 11 of Syria’s 14 governorates. The coverage has gone well beyond the target of 260,000 children set in the 2013 Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan.
“I’m very happy to be here and have so many friends here,” says Amal* (10) who was displaced from Homs and has been attending a UNICEF-supported school club in Tartous governorate for more than six months. Amal has lived with her family in the host community, for more than two years, sharing a house with another family.
“I like learning Arabic the best,” says Amal, who also takes part in drawing, singing and sports sessions at the club.
Another child attending the same school club since last year, Sami* (9) was displaced from Aleppo by conflict.
“I enjoy it here,” he says of the school club. “Math and Arabic are my favourites because they will help my future.” Sami lives with his family and eight other families in a shelter set up in a factory building.
Apart from the success of school clubs, UNICEF made successful advocacy efforts to the Ministry of Education to keep schools open during the recent summer holidays. Following the advocacy efforts, 122 schools in 9 govenorates remained open between July-August. This meant that children could access remedial classes based on the national curriculum covering four core subjects — Arabic, Math, Science, and English.
This initiative helped children, especially those who have missed out on education, go back to school and keep on learning in the current school year, which started on 15 September.
The advocacy work also resulted in the Ministry of Education allowing all children, especially those who missed out on education, to take the extra round of exams before the new academic year.
*Names have been changed.