As clashes continue throughout Syria, students from war-torn areas near Damascus have been released to take their final examinations.
Around 360 students from the rebel-held suburb of Moadamyeh and 68 students from rebel-controlled Madaya in the southwest of Syria traveled to a government area for their year-end exams. According to Nandini Krishnamoorthy of International Business, this was the first time in 302 days that these high school students were allowed to leave their towns.
Both Moadamiyeh and Madaya have been bombarded heavily as pro-regime forces try to wrest back the cities from the rebels. A scant amount of humanitarian aid has reached these cities, and some reports cite incidents in which citizens have died from starvation and a lack of medical care. A United Nations report shows that only 10% of the requested aid has been delivered to the beleaguered areas in Syria.
As soon as the students reached the first checkpoint outside of their towns, they were searched by soldiers. "They were fighting for their lives, but they will make all efforts to pass their exams," said Wafiqa Hashem, a teacher at the Mohammad Nassif secondary school in Madaya. Schools throughout Syria regularly struggle with power outages and other shortages.
According to i24News, 80% of students in Madaya missed significant stretches of school last year due to cold weather, hunger, and threats of violence. The move to permit the evacuation of Syrian students for their exams was praised by the Syrian education minister Hazan al-Wuz, who said it was a "rejection of the ignorance that the nation's enemies are striving for."
The New York Times reports that since the government began allowing aid into Madaya this year, the health of students has noticeably improved. Ms. Hashem said: "They are playing sports again." Nevertheless, educators have fallen behind on their classes, and the education sector has been compromised as a result of the ongoing conflict. Syrians regularly talk of a lost generation; it is not clear when, if ever, the centrifugal conflict will be resolved.
For its part, the Syrian government is eager to show that it is still functional enough to provide services, salaries, and pensions amid catastrophic circumstances. Analysts predict that state media will use the evacuation of students as propaganda tool to promote the regime's technical and moral superiority over the rebel forces. Regime authorities claim that the rebels are overrun with religious fanatics who hope to destroy the Syrian state.
Reportedly, high school students in the rebel-held eastern part of the city Aleppo were prevented by rebel forces from traveling to government-controlled areas to take their final exams. Aleppo has become ground-zero in the bloody Syrian civil war, which trudges into its fifth year and has claimed over one hundred thousand lives.
The UN is calling for "unimpeded humanitarian access" to remote and hard-to-reach areas besieged by conflict. The organization estimates that around 486,700 Syrians are living in hostile areas controlled by the regime, rebels, or the Islamic State.