I have noticed a resounding theme whilst researching further into the Syrian refugee crisis facing the global community. Beyond the immediate needs for safety, food/water, medical access and financial aid, a major need appears to be that of education.
According to reports by UNICEF, there are 13 million children who are deprived of education in the Middle East, with a significant number of them being in Syria. The relatively small number of refugees who do have access to limited education through the two main camps often have this disrupted as they are needed to work to help support their families.
Teachers in these regions also face enormous challenges. Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, 52,500 teachers have left their posts, and those that do relocate often face barriers which prevent them from working. Teachers still teaching face obstacles with language barriers, lack of resources, children suffering from trauma, overcrowded classrooms or schools being damaged or destroyed. Class sizes in one of the main refugee camps, Zaa’tari, can be more than 120 children per teacher.
UNICEF has reported that over 8,850 schools can no longer be accessed in Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Libya. These former places of learning have been damaged or destroyed, or they have become places of shelter for displaced families or are they are occupied by parties in conflict. 8,850 schools! Imagine the social, cultural and educational impact that the closure of 8,850 schools would cause in your own country. Even half that number. Even a quarter. The fallout is enormous.
So, what is being done? What can be done? This situation is one of the ultimate liminal space – ambiguity and disorientation. However, waiting on the threshold for a change to occur one way or the other only appears to have delayed the educational progress of so many children.
Fortunately, even though the future is uncertain and unknown, programs are in place to assess and address the barriers facing refugees regarding education. Programs such as UNICEF’s “Back to Learning Campaign 2015/2016” is providing funding for formal and alternative education to 2.5 million children. This includes the “Self Learning Program” for children who do not have safe access to school. This aims to provide a self-study course to over 500,000 children in line with the national curriculum so that they can keep up with their education despite their circumstances. E-learning is another avenue that is being investigated for its obvious benefits in areas of conflict.
What should our global goals be as we try to address this situation? UNICEF states the following:
- Reduce the number of children out of school.
- Support partners and national education systems.
- Streamline accreditation and certification.
- Step up advocacy to stop attacks on schools and education facilities.
- Prioritise funding for education in conflict-hit countries.
“Syria needs its children to build a better future but education is more than just economics – it is about aspiration, hopes and dreams. After the trauma they have gone through Syrian children deserve to dream of new beginnings” (Chetty, 2015).
Chetty, D. 2015. The Conversation: Education for refugees can help save Syria’s lost generation. Retrieved on 6th October 2015 from http://theconversation.com/education-for-refugees-can-help-save-syrias-lost-generation-48346
Lee, M. 2015. The Guardian – Education without Borders. Retrieved on 6th October 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/aug/19/syria-refugee-crisis-education-teaching-lost-generation-children
UNICEF. 2015. Education Under Fire: How Conflict in the Middle East is Depriving Children of their Schooling. Retrieved on 6th October 2015 from http://www.unicef.org/mena/Education-Under-Fire-English.pdf
UNICEF. 2015. Syria Crisis – Monthly Humanitarian Highlights and Results. Retrieved on 6th October 2015 from http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/UNICEF%20Syria%20Crisis%20Situation%20Report%20-%20August%202015.pdf