The Borgen Project: ‘The Education Crisis in Syria’ accessible in <https://borgenproject.org/education-crisis-in-syria/>
Syria’s educational system has faced challenges for a long time, but the situation improved before the war’s outbreak in 2011. In the decades that preceded the crisis, the educational sector in Syria was witnessing improvements concerning school and university enrolments. Nevertheless, the Syrian government was, at the time, taking initiatives and showing interest in fighting illiteracy as well as increasing the number of primary and preparatory schools throughout the country.
Following the outbreak of the civil war, Syrian children of all ages were left without access to education. According to recent data published, there are more than 2.4 million Syrian children currently out of school.
Syrian children are currently facing several challenges that make it extremely difficult to attend their school or continue their education. The conflict has led to people’s displacement from their homes, poverty, and the inability of families to pay for school materials. In addition, the Syrian civil war has dangerously normalized and dramatically increased the issue of child labour. The stories shared by some of the affected children highlight the gravity of their situation. Issa, a 12-year-old boy, expressed his feeling of bitterness when he could not attend school for years after his family was displaced due to the war. Or Salim, a victim of displacement and child labour who was forced to seek refuge in Lebanon, where he currently works daily carrying potato bags.
Albeit the employment of children under the age of 15 is illegal under Syrian legislation, no prominent governmental initiatives have been taken in the past few years to address this issue. However, UNICEF is taking steps to tackle the problem by adopting and implementing friendly policies designed to assist Syrian children in the enjoyment of their rights.
A 2012 International Labour Organisation report recommended the Syrian national legislation to reform and impose further regulatory norms in the field of children’s work. The report also highlights how Syrian penalty laws are not severe enough to prevent employers from hiring children. Although the Syrian crisis slowed down the ILO’s work, in 2018, it adopted a ‘multi-sectoral approach’ to prevent child labour. This approach is meant to protect children’s rights to education and livelihood. It is also led and coordinated by several parties, including the Syrian Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, as well as the United Nations. Perhaps this multi-sided tactic, including a governmental representative, will reduce the number of children who are working rather than attending school.
Unfortunately, Syria’s educational system faces other challenges as well. One of these is the limited access to electricity. The electrical energy infrastructure in Syria was damaged severely after the crisis, leaving most cities in the country, such as Aleppo and Damascus, without electricity for most hours of the day. Most schools in Syria were affected, and students had to struggle in dark classrooms. However, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and UNICEF intervened in some places and saved the situation. For instance, in Aleppo, ECHO and UNICEF supplied 30 schools with solar panels, a successful step that positively changed the situation for students and teachers.
Nonetheless, implementing solar panels in all schools throughout the country is lengthy and costly. Since students of all age groups need electricity at home to prepare for exams, it would also fail to solve the issue in its entirety. The situation is undoubtedly precarious, but the government can take initiatives to assist students to study in more adequate conditions. Both the UN and ECHO could provide public city libraries with solar panels for electricity generation. This would allow students to learn in quiet and well-lit surroundings, thus contributing to their educational success.
Another major challenge in Syria’s educational sector is the severe lack of fuel which directly affects students’ capabilities to access educational institutions. The Covid-19 pandemic, in addition, forced schools and universities to shut down for months, leading to the dropping out of a vast number of students.
As mentioned above, UNICEF is taking several steps to improve these circumstances and combat the so-called ‘lost generation’. According to recently published data, UNICEF has not only been active in Syria throughout the past ten years but has also helped over 1.5 million children since 2016 by providing them with study materials and better chances for education. Furthermore, UNESCO has played an active role in Syria by launching several platforms to support Syrian children, psychologically as well as educationally. An example of this can be seen in the creation of “The Second Chance Program” by CapED, which assists the students who failed their final exams in retaking these during the summer, thereby providing them with a second opportunity to move onto the next grade.
Overall, the situation in Syria is chaotic and complex, and governmental administrations fail to prioritise education. According to a report published by The Middle East Institute in 2022, the limited and short-term nature of the funding, insufficiency and inefficiency of data collection, and the delays in the embracement of new approaches are significant factors hampering Syria’s educational success. Education in Syria is in dire need of funding and rebuilding to improve students’ situations and guarantee their basic human rights.
Written by Noor Mousa
Edited by Olga Ruiz Pilato