The conflict in Syria is causing severe damage to the education system, according to a new report by UNICEF on the country’s two-year crisis. Thousands of children are being kept out of school by the violence. Some have already missed out on almost two years of schooling. And one in five schools have been damaged or destroyed – 2,400 in total.
While much of the current attention to Syria’s immediate needs focuses on housing and feeding refugees, UNICEF is protecting education as much as possible, by rebuilding damaged schools, supplying teaching and learning materials, and supporting “school clubs” that give children a chance to catch up on lessons.
“Being in school makes children feel safe and protected and leaves parents hopeful about their children’s future”, said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, the agency’s representative in Syria, told UNICEF. “That’s why so many parents we talk to single out education as their top priority.”
As we highlighted in the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, it is vital not only that humanitarian responses include education needs, but also to make sure that there are long-term plans to protect and reconstruct the education system as the conflict drags on and after it ends.
Worldwide, with just 1,000 days to go until the deadline for meeting the Education for All goals, there are still 61 million children out of school – and more than a third of them are in conflicted-affected countries, as we found in the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report. Education often gets forgotten in humanitarian emergencies such as violent conflicts, but what is happening in Syria shows that these are the countries where education needs the most urgent help.
The UNICEF report draws attention to many of the damaging effects of conflict on education that we analysed in our 2011 Report. Children are being kept out of school not only because their schools have been damaged or destroyed, but also because they are being used to shelter displaced people. Some schools have been taken over for use by armed forces. More than 110 teachers and other education staff have been killed, and many teachers are no longer reporting for work.
“Syria once prided itself on the quality of its schools,” Mr. Abdel-Jelil told UNICEF. Now it’s seeing the gains it made over the years rapidly reversed.”