Amman, 25 June 2014 – Innovative ways of meeting the rising educational needs of Syrian refugee children were at the centre of a three day Conference in Amman last week, organized by the Centre for Lebanese Studies (CLS), UNICEF, UNHCR and UNESCO.
The Conference brought together education specialists and government officials from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt with representatives of donor countries, UN agencies, NGOs, civil society organizations and the private sector to deal with education as a key sector being affected by the Syria crisis. The crisis is now well into its fourth year, and is having a profound impact on Syrian and vulnerable children in host communities.
Despite impressive efforts to provide classrooms, teachers and school materials for an estimated 450,000 child refugees, huge gaps remain. As of April 2014, out of more than 911,000 school-age children in the five main countries hosting Syrian refugees, 53 per cent are still not in school.
Public school systems face huge challenges: overcrowded classrooms, a lack of trained teachers, a language of instruction that may not be the children’s own, variations in curricula and weak remedial education. These issues, combined with the stress and trauma many Syrian children are living with, make it hard for them – and those from local communities — to learn effectively.
The Conference explored different ways of increasing the number of children in school, improving quality, as well as solutions to other key issues relating to the curricula offered to Syrian pupils, and the certification they receive afterwards. Current policies and programmes in place around the region were examined in order to better respond to the growing needs as the conflict drags on.
Addressing the Conference, UNESCO Jordan Representative, Costanza Farina, said that although host governments were struggling to provide basic services to refugees as well as their own most vulnerable populations, education had to be part of the humanitarian response.
“Education can save and sustain lives… It has the power to restore routine and to give people hope for the future,” she argued.
UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Maria Calivis, said it was vital that the education provided was of good quality.
“It is only quality education that will allow children to develop as young people with the potential to bring positive change to their communities, and for Syrian children, to contribute to rebuilding their country”, Ms Calivis said.
In his speech, Francois Reybet-Degat, Deputy Director of the UNHCR Bureau for the Middle East and North Africa, quoted the despairing words of Nadia, a 14 year old Syrian girl living in Irbid, Jordan, who said: “Our lives are destroyed. We’re not being educated, and without education there is nothing. We’re heading towards destruction.”
Nadia’s words, said Mr Reybet-Degat, highlighted the emotional and mental consequences of forced displacement, and showed how the education response must also cover children’s need for protection from harm.
Speaking for the Conference’s fourth co-organizer, the Centre for Lebanese Studies, Maha Shuayb, Director of the Centre, stressed that many of the challenges refugee children were facing – access, quality, and language – were the same ones vulnerable children in the region had long suffered from.
“For long our children have been struggling to fit into education systems that have limited flexibility,” Ms Shuayb said. While the Syria crisis posed great challenges, it also offered “an unprecedented opportunity to re-structure our education systems to promote equity and equality”.
Country delegations worked together during the Conference to highlight policies and programmes for scaling up access and quality of education for the Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities which they will follow up on upon return. The recommendations included a call for increased human and financial resources in order to scale up educational access, sustain greater community participation, and strengthen monitoring and evaluation systems.
For further information, contact Simon Ingram UNICEF media, firstname.lastname@example.org; +962 79 590 4740
Syrian child refugees learn in a makeshift tent classroom in the Kfarzabat informal tented settlement, in the eastern Bekaa Valley. A lack of space and the use of English and French are two main challenges in integrating Syrian refugee children into the Lebanese curriculum. UNICEF, through local NGO partner Beyond Association, supports education, child protection and health interventions in more than 100 informal tented settlements in the country, the majority in Bekaa Valley. Approximately 1,000 people, including 300 children, live in the settlement. © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0941/Haidar
Iraq, May 2013. Children following the lesson in the KAR school in the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq. UNICEF is supporting two schools in the camp – the KAR school and Qamishlu school, providing education for a total of 2,141 pupils. © UNICEF/UKLA2012-00985/Schermbrucker
Lebanon, May 2013. 11 year old Mohammad in the SAWA centre. Mohammad fled Syria about a year ago with his mum, dad, two younger brothers and two sisters. He recalls lots of gunfire and being scared before they left. However asked about his journey to Lebanon, he says it was normal. The family managed to rent an apartment and thanks to UNICEF’s work with the government Mohammad attends school. SAWA, UNICEF’s partner, runs remedial classes to help children with the difference between Syrian and Lebanese curriculum and psychosocial support. The children learn to turn the bad images from the conflict into good. Mohammad was seen drawing tanks. He misses his grandparents, friends and neighbours and their possessions: the computer and his brothers’ teddies. He says that since they have come to the centre his brothers are smiling again. They play and sing together. Mohammad would like to return to Syria and see his friends again and when he grows up he would like to be a doctor. © UNICEF/UKLA2013-01543/Pigott
On 15 September, a boy in Grade 1, seated at a desk in his classroom, looks through the school kit he just received, in rural Damascus, in Damascus Governorate. As part of the Back to Learning campaign, aims are to reach 1 million displaced primary-school-aged children with the kits, which consist of backpacks filled with stationery supplies. The backpack bears the word UNICEF in Arabic as well as the organization’s logo. © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0587/Halabi
On 5 December 2013 in Lebanon, Abdel-Hamid (left), 7, with the help of his friend Abdullah, practises writing the Arabic alphabet in Abdullahs familys tent shelter, in the Tal Al Abiad informal settlement. Abdel-Hamid and his family are also among Syrian refugees living in the settlement, which is in Baalbek, a town in the Bekaa Valley. Too young to enrol in school while living in the Syrian Arab Republic, Abdel-Hamid had begun attending non-formal education activities run by UNICEFs implementing partner SAWA. It was so nice to go to school. I did not know anything, but I learned to write English and Arabic alphabets
But the school didnt stay open for long. It was set up for only two weeks, and then it was shut down, perhaps because of the rain or the cold. His family fled the city of Homs almost two years earlier. I dont remember anything about Syria. I was too young. I only remember that we travelled in a car with nothing. They arrived in Lebanon with only the clothes on their backs. We stayed in my uncles tent for two weeks, he added. His family is also large and lived in a one-room tent. We were eight, so the tent became too crowded. Thats why we started to build our own tent. Still, the flimsy tent that is now his home does not provide protection from rodents in the field. I hate rats. There are lots of them, big ones, he explained. They eat our food and also bite. I am so afraid of them, especially when I sleep. Sometimes I have nightmares about them. They are poisonous. Once, a rat bit my cousin. His face was swollen, and he had to be taken to a clinic. A lack of water and sanitation is also a concern in Tal Al Abiad as it is in many informal settlements. © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-1389/Noorani
On 17 December 2013 in Iraq, 12-year-old Safaa walks through a local market on her way home from the UNICEF-supported school she attends, in the Kawergosk camp for Syrian refugees, just west of Erbil, capital of Kurdistan Region. Safaa and her family, who fled their home in Syrias north-eastern Hasakah Governorate, are among nine people sheltering in one tent in the camp. Her family is adjusting as best they can to their new circumstances. I can see the desperation on their faces. But all we can do is laugh and smile because this is our life. I see them play, and do things, but at the end of the day theyre just sad, Safaa says. Its sad but its not going to stop me. © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-1420/Noorani
Iraq, May 2013. Little girl follows the lesson in the KAR school in the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq. UNICEF is supporting two schools in the camp – the KAR school and Qamishlu school, providing education for a total of 2,141 pupils. © UNICEF/UKLA2012-00985/Schermbrucker
Iraq, May 2013. Ten year old Ahin is following the lesson among other pupils in the KAR school in the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq. This little girl has been living in the camp for seven months. Her baby brother is not yet 2 years old, and doesn’t remember Syria but Ahin does – she says their house in Damascus was big, with a kitchen and a bathroom, and that she doesn’t like it so much in the camp. Ahin lives with her parents and two little brothers, who she helps look after. At the moment her uncle and aunt – who arrived from Syria very recently – are staying with them, until they can get a tent of their own. © UNICEF/UKLA2012-00985/Schermbrucker
Iraq, May 2013. Nine year old Ibrahim in the classroom on the KAR school in the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq. Ibrahim is in the third grade and like many of his classmates, he fled Syria because of the conflict. His favourite subject is maths and he would like to become a doctor when he is older. He likes coming to school because, he says, it is very good to have education and to be able to learn. He has two little sisters who he loves very much. “I like being a big brother and looking after them.” © UNICEF/UKLA2012-00985/Schermbrucker
Children attend a remedial class, held inside a building sheltering displaced families in Homs, capital of the central Homs Governorate. The classes are run in four shifts daily, providing children aged 4â€“12 years with lessons in Arabic and mathematics as well as with recreational activity. UNICEF, in coordination with the local NGO Aoun, is providing the classes in various facilities throughout the city. © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0130/Morooka
On 13 March, displaced children participate in an art activity, in a UNICEF-supported shelter in Homs, capital of Homs Governorate. The activity is part of pyschosocial services to help children recover from trauma caused by the conflict. The UNICEF logo is partially visible on the mat where they are working.
Iraq, February 2014. 9 year old Mohammed attends school in the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq. © UNICEF/UKLA2014-04804/Schermbrucker