The Syrian crisis has led to an outpouring of more than 2.3 million people into other countries in the region. Of that, an estimated 865,000 are children, and 70 – 80% are not enrolled in school. It is a harrowing concern, and a UK-based organization has taken the lead on bringing kids back into the classroom. Host countries like Lebanon have become overwhelmed with the influx of refugees in already crowded and overburdened school systems. To address this, exiled Syrian teachers in Akroum teamed up with willing local school teachers and started a timeshare school, allowing Syrian children to be taught in Arabic-language schools after hours. The Lebanese school system requires students to learn in English or French, which has been a huge barrier for Syrian children. Edinburgh Direct Aid, a Scottish charity, got wind of the situation and delivered textbooks in Arabic to the Akroum school, agreed to fund similar timeshare projects across the country, and promoted a UN-led initiative to expand the timeshare project nationwide.
One of the most damning consequences of the crisis is losing an entire generation of children and youth. In Syria, violence has prevented 1.9 million children from attending school. That’s 40% of the nation’s population. Without education, the population will lack the skills and knowledge necessary to one day rebuild the country. Having recognized this, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, joined by Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafai and UK-based Overseas Development Institute, are spear-heading the initiative, which aims to reach 400,000 Syrians in 1,500 schools. The cost is an estimated $195M, or about $400 per pupil. Additionally, the initiative is expected to be operational within a matter of weeks, given that the infrastructure to accommodate the children is provided by existing schools. It is unclear at this point, however, how the project will be staffed, though it is expected that the UN and partnering organizations will recruit teachers.
Refugee and IDP camps are meant to serve as temporary, transitory places for people to wait out the violence that prevents them from returning home. But with intra-state conflict on the rise, resolutions are often a long time coming and these makeshift communities take on more of a permanent nature, with residents staying for upwards of ten years. Organizations have been setting up schools in camps, where possible, for a long time. They serve a multiplicity of purposes ranging from establishing a sense of normalcy for children, providing a safe space, registration of persons for NGOs and an area for families to reunite. But demand always outweighs supply and organizations often do not have the resources, reach, or time to devote to building an education system within a camp. This program, depending on its success, may revolutionize the manner in which children of conflict and post-conflict zones are able to exercise their right to education, and it may serve as a model for increasing access to education in other parts of the developing world. It is gaining global attention, and has been endorsed by Gordon Brown, current UN Special Envoy on Global Education and past Prime Minister of the UK. For more detail, you can listen to him discuss the issue here.
Public support for the initiative is being accepted through Western Union’s recently formed Education for Better Fund, which supports UNICEF’s efforts in Syria. The first $100,000 donated will be matched by the company. Read more and donate here.