A UN envoy has warned that an entire generation in Syria will grow up illiterate as a consequence of its bitter civil war, in which both sides have committed atrocities against children.
“[We] will have to face a generation of children who lost their childhood, have a lot of hate and are illiterate.” – Leila Zerrougui, UN special representative for children and armed conflict.
Zerrougui spent three days meeting with Syrian government officials and rebel commanders to assess how the war is affecting children. She said thousands of schools in Syria have been destroyed.
In combat zones, the Syrian armed forces have committed apparent laws of war violations by conducting ground and air attacks on schools not being used for military purposes, according to Human Rights Watch. In mid-2012 government forces and militias fired on schools in Daraa while students were inside. Government forces also have conducted at least two aerial attacks on school buildings in northern Syria.
Salma, a 14-year-old girl from Daraa, told Human Rights Watch that government forces fired on her school twice in mid-2012 while school was in session: “When the tank entered the school [grounds], it hit the walls of the school with machine guns,” she said. “So students got down [on the ground] to shelter. We spent half an hour or an hour there underneath our desks [before we could go home].” No one reported opposition fighters in the school at the time.
Focus on Syria is a project (website) dedicated to in-depth research on the field among the Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq and the displaced people inside Syria. Below are actual stories and testimonies of why Syrian children do not attend school.
Among the Syrian families which we have met in Lebanon and Jordan, about half of the children are not going to school. Many of them have already lost the previous school year in Syria, in 2011/2012, due to the fighting and the closure of schools in their areas. For a second year they are staying home without continuing their studies. The forced absence from school, apart from compromising their educational and professional future, is depriving them of a protective environment in which they could socialise with other children.
These Syrian families do not send their children to school for different reasons. For instance Ahmed, who has taken refuge in a rural town in North Bekaa, justifies his choice with the costs of registration and transportation:
“No, none of my children goes to school. You have to pay the registration, and also the transportation from Mashari’a to the school in a close-by village. It costs 20 dollars per month for each child. I have seven children, and that’s too expensive, I would need 140 dollars a month only for the transportation.”
Others like Abd el Rahman and Mohammed do not think that sending their children to school is useful in their current conditions:
“Our children do not go to school. We are refugees; we don’t know what will happen to us… if tomorrow the regime falls, we will go back to Syria. We don’t have security… here it is impossible to have a normal life. […] In Syria there is no school anymore, why should we send them to school here? It doesn’t make sense…”
Others struggle to find the appropriate school for the continuation of their children’s studies. Saleh, a 20 year old young man, now living in Irbid, tells us about his younger brothers:
“Here in Jordan my younger brother goes to school; but there was no place around here, the schools were all full. My father had to visit many of them, and finally registered him in a distant school, and every day a bus comes to pick him up. My sister doesn’t study though: in Syria she was in high school, in the 3rd year of fine arts, but here her specialty doesn’t exist, there were some issues, they wanted to put here in a lower class, and the school is far away… so she didn’t register.”
Fortunately other families managed to register all their children in the local schools, where they attend their lessons in mixed classes with Lebanese and Jordanian children. They face some difficulties to integrate with their new classmates and adapt to the different curriculum, but at least they are able to continue their studies. Refugee children in Tripoli (in Lebanon) and Zaatari Camp (in Jordan) can also attend some special schools with Syrian teachers.
Jamila, a woman from Homs, was a middle school teacher; but since some months she has taken refuge in Zaatari Camp. All her children attend the camp schools, where she works. Nevertheless she feels discouraged at the daily sight of many children roaming around the camp without going to school:
“Many children are not sent to school by their parents. I have gone around the camp several times to encourage them to send them… the people live in the illusion that tomorrow they will go back to Syria, finish their studies, and the lost school year will be compensated… in the meanwhile the first term is almost over, and the school year will be over, and the child doesn’t go to school since years, they don’t think about it, I don’t know, maybe we all live in an illusion…”
(testimonies collected between December 2012 and January 2013, in Lebanon and Jordan)