Education in Crisis: Supporting the Future of Syrian ChildrenPublished: May 22, 2023 Reading time: 4 minutes
Education in northwest Syria is in crisis. Teachers’ wages are depreciating amidst a worsening cost of living crisis, access to curricula and educational equipment is limited, and schools are becoming increasingly overcrowded.
Without the benefit of education, the very future of northwest Syria is in danger as the next generation of Syrians face worse prospects than their parents or grandparents before them. Not only will economic growth be restricted, but without an education the next generation will struggle to find ways of escaping the cycle of poverty and aid dependence. With the support of aid organisations like PIN, teachers in Syria are attempting to stop, and even reverse, the downward trajectory of children’s futures.
Mamdouh has worked in the education sector in Syria since the 1980s. Unlike many other teachers, who were forced to leave their profession in response to low salaries, job insecurity, and dwindling employment opportunities, Mamdouh has remained in his line of work for decades. He has experienced firsthand how education has come under repeated attack.
“It was exam season. Students were inside the exam hall when the building came under rocket attack. The children were terrified and started screaming,” he said, “The school had no shelter or basement, so we hid the students in the stairwell. Moments after, the school was targeted again, but thank god the rockets only fell in the playground.”
By some miracle, no one was injured that day. But the incident prompted many families to withdraw their children from school. Many parents were so worried that they never sent their children back. It is a pattern that has been repeated across the country: an estimated 2.4 million Syrian children – about half of Syria’s school-aged population - are out of education for reasons including war and displacement.
Undeterred, Mamdouh continued his classes with the remaining students from a cave near his village. “We installed battery-powered lights in the cave, and the students would come at dawn to take their exams. It was a horrible experience for the children and their families,” he said.
"We were keen, as teachers, on helping the students continue their education but it was difficult to accept such responsibility - the lives of the students were at stake. Our safety was at risk too, but we had to do our jobs and protect the students.”
Eventually, Mamdouh joined a PIN-supported school as a vice principal. It was a difficult start. Muddy, incomplete roads made it difficult to get to school each morning. The classrooms consisted only of a few tents, which struggled to accommodate the school’s 400 students. It wasn’t much, “but it was a better alternative than leaving the students without any education,” Mamdouh said.
With funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), PIN began to improve the school’s austere facilities. Solid classrooms were constructed to replace the worn-out tents. A solar power system was installed alongside fans to cool the building in the sweltering summer months. The additional facilities also helped reduce overcrowding: “PIN is providing huge support for the school and the students. There are about 30 to 35 students in each classroom,” Mamdouh said, “in other schools, there are 50 or 55.”
As well as providing more permanent learning spaces, PIN delivered training sessions for teachers and also distributed kits for teachers and students containing educational materials. Whiteboard markers, notebooks, pens and other stationary items were all handed out at the school alongside school uniforms, produced under PIN’s concurrent cash-for-work sewing project.
“I think school uniforms are a great idea,” said Mamdouh, “some people here are so poor that they cannot secure proper clothing for their children. Providing school uniforms helps reduce the expenses of many families.”
In a region where 90% of people live in poverty, providing basic school materials and uniforms alongside reconstruction projects is an important step in rebuilding educational capacity. Loss of access to education can result in increased rates of child labour and other child protection issues which will inhibit the long-term prospects of Syria’s children.
Last year alone, PIN supported nearly 30,000 students in schools in northern Syria and a further 36,000 in temporary learning spaces; informal education facilities set up in displacement camps. In order to secure a better future, Syria’s children will bear the burden of recovery and reconstruction efforts, and with an education they stand a better chance of success.