Syrian Refugee Children Find Education Elusive

According to Unicef, about 70 percent of the 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, an estimated 865,000 are children who are not in school. However, the real number is likely higher. The United Nations is yet to register hundreds of thousands of refugees especially in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, one-third likely children not attending school.

Struggling to deal with the inundation of Syrians, a majority are simply unable to register in school systems. Because of cost or safety concerns, many of those enrolled attend irregularly. Others are unable to cope with a new environment and a new curriculum, especially those who have already missed a year or two of school because of the conflict in Syria. For those in Lebanon, language becomes a difficulty. Additionally, others work to help parents whose savings are being depleted.

For some children, receiving lessons outside school has been the norm while many just spend their days doing little in camps or in the communities that host Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Experts warn of a lost generation of Syrian children that could prove one of the most damaging consequences of the war as Syria’s civil war nears the end of its third year.

“If this problem is left unaddressed, the children will lose hope, especially adolescents,” said Maria Calivis, the regional director of Unicef who oversees its response to the crisis. “They will replicate and perpetuate the violence that they have seen. And they will lack the skills and knowledge that one day will be needed to rebuild Syria.”

Ms. Calivis said that before the war, enrollment of school-age children in Syria had reached 80%, a “relatively high” figure for the Middle East. Increasing enrollment nationwide, of girls especially, and building new schools in poor areas had been a priority for the Syrian Government in the past decade. According to Unicef, in Syria, the fighting is keeping 1.9 million children out of school, or about 40% of the country’s current population of school-age children.

According to Norimitsu Onishi of The New York Times, Syrian children who have sometimes doubled the schools’ student bodies lead to overcrowding of schools which are unable to cope with the rising number. They are scrambling to start afternoon shifts, find extra classrooms and hire new teachers among locals or Syrian refugees. To ensure the schooling of the Syrian children, United Nations officials hope to reach an agreement among the region’s governments by early next year.

According to Unicef, only 13% of the Syrian children, or about 53,000, are enrolled in public schools, the lowest percentage among the host countries in Lebanon, which is overwhelmed by the influx of a million Syrians, the equivalent of one-quarter of its population. Additionally, in Lebanon, about 70% of Lebanese children attend private schools. Also, the 300,000 Lebanese children in the nation’s public schools are already outnumbered by an estimated 400,000 school-age Syrian children.