Education Never Been Deadlier for Syria’s Children, Save the Children Report Says

Save the Children, September 17, 2014

Education is now one of the deadliest pursuits for children and teachers inside Syria, as the country’s schools are increasingly being damaged and destroyed in the conflict.

Save the Children’s educational facilities in northern Syria have been affected by air strikes, shelling and explosions at least once a month over the last year. Only last June, air strikes forced staff to be evacuated from one of the schools supported by the children’s agency, while in August another school was severely damaged in an attack. Across Syria, at least 3,465 schools have been destroyed or damaged, and many have been occupied for military purposes.

A report into Syrian children’s education released today by Save the Children, Future under threat: The impact of the education crisis on Syria’s children, finds that:

  • Schools are being increasingly forced to close because of the conflict
  • From an almost 100% enrolment rate, Syria has now descended to the second worst rate of school attendance in the world with 2.8 million children out of school
  • Up to half of children surveyed by the agency in Syria reported they were ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ able to concentrate in class
  • Syrian refugee children in neighbouring countries are facing disturbing rates of abuse, bullying, corporal punishment and marginalisation

“It is absolutely shameful that the obligation to protect schools is not being respected in this conflict, endangering the lives of innocent children and dedicated teachers and forcing millions out of education,” said Save the Children’s Regional Director Roger Hearn. “It is no surprise that, under these conditions, Syrian children are dropping out of school by the day, and the international community has to step up its response to ensure that we do not lose an entire generation of children.”

Four years into the Syria crisis, overall enrolment in Syrian schools has halved from near 100% pre-crisis levels, while enrolment in the hardest hit areas such as Aleppo has plummeted to just 6%. From Save the Children’s own education programmes it emerges that the drop-out rates in camps and areas with high numbers of displaced people is up to twice as high as for other areas.

Meanwhile school children’s trauma and severe psychological distress are also on the rise, affecting their ability to learn. Half of the children surveyed in northern Syria by the agency were ‘rarely or ‘never’ able to concentrate in class; one-third of children were unable to obey adults’ instructions and almost half of children were unable to focus on their class work. Nearly one in three children felt helpless; 39% had bad dreams frequently and 42% felt sad regularly. Another study by the agency confirmed that 38% of school children were unable to cope with the stress of their environment. Teachers identified more than half of children as being easily scared and 40% as frequently unhappy.

And those children who have managed to escape the conflict in Syria are also missing out on education with devastating consequences. One in 10 Syrian refugee children across the region are estimated to be working, and the figure is likely to be much higher. In Jordan, 47% of refugee families reported relying partly or entirely on their children’s income in a recent assessment.

Refugee children are also reporting being bullied and picked on in local schools because of where they come from or because of the strain their presence is putting on school resources. Children in our programmes have reported being harassed on the way to school, ridiculed in the classroom and intimidated at the school gate.

“We have heard from children being cursed and ridiculed by teachers in host countries, being told that they have ruined their country or to go back to Syria,” Roger said. “Others face corporal punishment at school. In Egypt alone, 30% of children we interviewed told us they were being hit by teachers and 70% are being verbally abused.”

Refugee children are also faced with learning an unfamiliar curriculum or even a teacher speaking a language they cannot understand.

Save the Children calls on all parties to the conflict to end all attacks on schools and to abide by international humanitarian law, and on international donors to continue investing in Syrian children to ensure their protection and that education is safe and inclusive.

“We owe it to Syria’s children to equip them for the present and also for their future, to be able to cope with their immediate hopes and fears and to rebuild their own country in line with their legitimate aspirations,” Hearn said.