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Almost 1 million Syrian children can’t go to school

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“Education for all” is a concept we can all get behind. It’s one of the Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations this year. It’s also a fundamental right under the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees. But there remains an enormous gap between these ideals and reality. For too many children, education is simply out of reach.

The education issue is perhaps its most acute in the Syrian refugee crisis that continues to grip the world. It’s estimated that 900,000 Syrian children are out of school. Older youth often can’t go to school because they have to work to support their families. The ongoing conflict is to blame for this startling trend: it used to be that almost all Syrian children attended primary and lower secondary education.

Finding Space for Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon’s Classrooms

So what’s to become of the hundreds of thousands of children who can’t write their own names? Let’s take a look at the case in Lebanon, one of the countries that has been most burdened by the crisis. In this country, where one in four people is a Syrian refugee, public schools are strained to the limits. Schooldays operate on a two-shift schedule—the first half of the day is for Lebanese children (and some Syrians if space permits), and the second half is for Syrian children. Still, half of all Syrian refugee children in Lebanon don’t go to school at all. That’s about 250,000 kids that are potentially being robbed of a future.

When kids don’t go to school, they are at a higher risk of exploitation, child labor, and early marriage. And in a region torn apart by conflict, they are at a particular risk of turning to violence and extremism. These children grow up to have few job prospects and can’t take part in their host community’s economy. Without an education, we risk seeing a generation lost completely.

For refugee children, school is necessary. School can offer social and emotional support for the traumas these children have experienced. In the classroom, children learn skills that will help them contribute to society positively—whether in their host community or back home in Syria, when they get the chance to return. When these kids are in the classroom alongside their Lebanese peers, learning the same basics and nurturing their growing minds, they have a better chance of integrating. The stigma of being a refugee, cut off from society and bound to tented settlements, can finally dissipate.

Syrian students take basic literacy and math courses in Fnaydeh, Lebanon. (Photo: Amr Kokash)

How Can We Build a Future for the Next Generation?

We as a global community have an obligation to ensure that this generation of Syrian children is not lost. We can help, even oceans away here in Washington, DC. We need to increase funding to programs aiding refugee education so that they have the capacity they need to reach the goals set forth by the UN. More should also be done to ease the financial burden on Syrian families so that they can afford to send their children to school. This means that Syrians need access to local labor markets.

Educational programs for Syrian refugees should cover a variety of subjects. There is a need for basic literacy and math courses as well as more specialized vocational education for older youth. Flexible non-formal education programs have been invaluable in offering an alternative for out of school youth.

The aim of non-formal education is to help youth develop basic competencies that they need in their practical lives. Whether learning how to read, how to use a computer, or how to fix a mobile phone, there are an array of individual skills that can boost refugees’ livelihoods.

Perhaps most importantly, education gives refugees hope. We recently heard from a Syrian teen in Lebanon, who became a pastry chef after taking vocational courses from American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA). The 16-year-old is the sole breadwinner for his refugee family from Homs. Now he has big plans for his future: “If I hadn’t heard about this course, I was going to work in construction. Now I enjoy my work, and I plan to open my own bakery when I go back to Syria.”

With more awareness, more funds, and more classrooms, we can tackle this pressing problem and ensure that no child misses out on this basic right.

Nisrine Makkouk

Nisrine Makkouk is the education program manager at ANERA's Beirut office.

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Leila Rafei

Leila Rafei works as media relations officer at ANERA in Washington, DC.

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8 Responses

  1. HarryLaw on January 13, 2017, 3:18 pm

    Commendable article, Those refugees in Lebanon are a direct result of the US and GCC states regime change machinations against Syria initiated before 2011 by US Ambassador Robert Ford.
    “Robert Ford was US Ambassador to Syria when the revolt against Syrian president Assad was launched. He not only was a chief architect of regime change in Syria, but actively worked with rebels to aid their overthrow of the Syrian government.
    Ford assured us that those taking up arms to overthrow the Syrian government were simply moderates and democrats seeking to change Syria’s autocratic system. Anyone pointing out the obviously Islamist extremist nature of the rebellion and the foreign funding and backing for the jihadists was written off as an Assad apologist or worse”

    It should not be forgotten the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is over 1 and a half million, a quarter of the total population, how would the US electorate act if 80 million refugess came to the US within a short space of time? Also one of the causes of the carnage in Syria, and major funder of the Wahhabi head choppers is Saudi Arabia. Do you know how many Syrian refugees the Saudis billionaires have taken in? None.

    • annie on January 13, 2017, 4:31 pm

      wow harry, i didn’t know lebanon had absorbed 1.5 million syrian refugees, that’s an outrageous amount for such a small country. when i was there, about a year and a half ago, it was at a million which i thought was a lot at the time. there were syrian refugees living on the property where i was staying, they were wonderful people. the village where they were from, and had a farm, had been overrun by jihadist. sad. i have no doubt they will return when all this is over. they had a couple of young kids, one born in lebanon.

    • Keith on January 14, 2017, 5:04 pm

      HARRY LAW- “Those refugees in Lebanon are a direct result of the US and GCC states regime change machinations against Syria initiated before 2011 by US Ambassador Robert Ford.”

      Thanks for reminding us of that important fact. Prior to the US/NATO destabilization of Syria, “…it used to be that almost all Syrian children attended primary and lower secondary education.” Empires destroy lives, period.

  2. HarryLaw on January 13, 2017, 4:55 pm

    Annie, This Aljazeera piece said over 1 and half million “Ehden, Lebanon – More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees have made Lebanon their temporary home, but now, newly elected President Michel Aoun is vowing to send them back to their country, still in the throes of a civil war with no end in sight.

    “There will be no solution in Syria without the return of the Syrian refugees to their country,” Aoun said in his inaugural speech this week. “The issue of the Syrian refugees should be resolved as soon as possible.”
    More information about those bastions of democracy Saudi Arabia has 100,000 empty tents with air conditioning with accommodation for 3 million refugees. ZERO Syrians.

  3. lproyect on January 16, 2017, 12:55 pm

    Quoting Global Research on the causes of the Syrian revolt? The 9/11 Truther/Chemtrail website that argues that the Arab Spring was a CIA conspiracy? Oh…right.

    For those still tethered to the planet earth, you might want to consider what Patrick Cockburn wrote–a reporter who is certainly part of the Baathist amen corner alongside Seymour Hersh and Robert Fisk:

    Again, consider Syria. The expansion of the free market in a country where there was neither democratic accountability nor the rule of law meant one thing above all: plutocrats linked to the nation’s ruling family took anything that seemed potentially profitable. In the process, they grew staggeringly wealthy, while the denizens of Syria’s impoverished villages, country towns, and city slums, who had once looked to the state for jobs and cheap food, suffered. It should have surprised no one that those places became the strongholds of the Syrian uprising after 2011. In the capital, Damascus, as the reign of neoliberalism spread, even the lesser members of the mukhabarat, or secret police, found themselves living on only $200 to $300 a month, while the state became a machine for thievery.,_an_endless_cycle_of_indecisive_wars/

  4. CitizenC on January 21, 2017, 4:03 am

    While 1 million Syrian refugee children can’t attend school in Lebanon, 4 million return to school in Syria, a revolutionary accomplishment in present conditions, which Syrian “revolutionaries” in the West somehow overlook. This is from September 2015 but the numbers if anything increased in 2016 and will increase again in 2017

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