PARIS, France – Due to an influx of Syrian refugees, the population of school-aged children in Jordan has doubled since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War.
Of 2 million registered Syrian refugees, an estimated 600,000 have been displaced to Jordan. The New York Times reports that school-aged children constitute 35 percent of this population. According to UNICEF, 81,000 of these children are currently enrolled in Jordanian schools.
Despite Jordan’s efforts to accommodate refugees in its schools, the country’s school system is not equipped to support an entire refugee population. Jordan, already destitute before the Syrian crisis, now faces a severe lack of the resources needed to maintain quality education for its own students while also addressing the refugee problem.
“My town is struggling to keep up with the numbers of Syrians because of the pressure on natural resources but also the lack of funding when it comes to education,” Abdullah Al Khattab, governor of Mafraq, Jordan, said to The New York Times.
Jordan lacks sufficient funding for sustaining education, but it also has a shortage of teachers–a resource that cannot be secured without funding. In an effort to work around this problem, many schools in Jordan have adapted a double shift system in which Jordanian children attend school in the morning, and Syrian refugees attend at night.
Although it provides more children with access to schooling, many Jordanians see the double shift system as an inadequate fix. It decreases the quality of the education that Jordan’s own children receive by putting strain on teachers who are required to work double shifts every day.
“Jordanian parents come to me and complain about the drop in the quality of education for their children,” Al Khattab said to The New York Times.
In an effort to help Jordan shoulder this burden, UNESCO has launched a 4.3 million Euro EU-funded project to ensure that the quality of education in Jordan does not continue to be compromised. The money will be used to recruit new teachers, as well as provide advanced training for existing teachers. As more teachers are recruited, the need for a double shift system will decrease. This will enable Jordan to provide quality education for Jordanian and Syrian children alike.
It is not just the Jordanian government that is struggling to fulfill the educational needs of the children. Despite free tuition, many Syrian refugee families are unable to send their children to school. For displaced families already struggling to pay rent and put food on the table, clothing and school supplies are simply too expensive.
“I want to register my kids in school but I don’t even have money to dress them,” Noora Hussein, a refugee in the Za’atari camp, said to WeNews.
The poverty these refugee families face has augmented Jordan’s child labor problem. Out of necessity, parents struggling to make ends meet with their own income pull their children out of school to work. Although the legal working age in Jordan is 16, increasingly more children are working illegally, most often on construction sites.
To help the child labor problem, UNICEF has been giving cash grants to families who commit to enrolling their children in school. If the children stop attending, the grants are revoked. UNICEF reports that the grant program is currently providing assistance for 2,000 refugee families. The grants, however, do not exceed $45 per month. For many families this is not enough incentive to enroll their children in school.
Despite charitable assistance from UNICEF and UNESCO, Jordan requires more substantial financial help from the international community if it is to salvage its education system. Its schools are struggling to support the children who can afford to attend, while thousands who cannot afford to attend are engaged in illegal labor. The futures of Syria and Jordan alike depend on the education children are receiving now.
“When you grow up without an education it reduces the ability to form civil trust and that means they are heading for conflict,” Curt Rhodes, director of Questscope, said to The New York Times.
– Matt Berg