DAMASCUS — Since its beginning in 2011, the Syrian civil war has claimed the lives of thousands and forced millions from their homes. For the children who have survived, and even those who are still living in Syria, the war has taken something else from them – their access to education.
Prior to the war, Syria had one of the strongest educational systems in the region. They had near 100 percent school enrollment and a literacy rate over 95 percent. Now, over 3000 schools have been destroyed in the fighting and are often targeted during air strikes. Nearly 3 million children are out of school (both in Syria and countries hosing refugees) and overall enrollment has dropped to 50 percent. In areas where the violence is concentrated, such as Aleppo, enrollment is under 10 percent.
A lost generation?
“Without an education, the children are likely to be exploited, get caught in poverty, fall victim to extremist ideologies, and will become a ‘lost generation.'”
The current generation of Syrian children will have few memories before the conflict. They have grown up under high levels of toxic stress, which hampers their brain development. Many experience various forms of anxiety, depression and PTSD, which makes it very difficult for them to concentrate even when they are in the classroom.
The consequences of the gap in education in Syria are already felt among children. Adolescents in grades 6, 7 and 8 cannot read or do math at the expected level of grade 1 students. Literacy and numeracy are endangered among an entire generation.
Educating refugee children
Education in Syria is difficult in its own right, but education for Syrian refugees in host-countries has a unique set of challenges. Rates of child marriage are high in refugee camps, and in Jordan 10 percent of refugee children must work to support their families. Both of these factors keep them out of school.
Other barriers include language, bullying and marginalization, resource gaps and the inherent inefficacy in the sheer number of NGOs and U.N. agencies clamoring for a solution.
Solutions in host countries
Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have all made efforts to provide education to Syrian refugee children living in their countries. Turkey allowed Syrian children to enroll in their public schools for free, hired Syrian teachers and modified the Syrian Arabic curriculum.
Lebanon also provided free enrollment, and introduced double shifts (where Lebanese children attend school in the morning and Syrian children attend in the evening) to optimize their space and resources.
Jordan created an accelerated program to catch Syrian children up before they enter public schools.
While there are still barriers to education in Syria and in host countries, the U.N. and the international community are aware of the issue and working to improve it. A lot is at stake – these children are at risk of becoming a lost generation, their potential wasted and their lives shaped by their experiences in conflict. Without intervention, the next generation of Syrian adults will be under-educated and acclimated to violence. With intervention, we can give these children a second chance.
– Olivia Bradley