Millions of Syrian child victims need a school

23rd January 2015 at 00:00
UN envoy Gordon Brown faces mammoth challenge to provide education

AFTER ALMOST five years of civil war in Syria around 2 million children have either been forced to become refugees or been left homeless and in search of safety.

Most of these refugees remain in the Middle East and the majority will be out of their country for more than a decade, the United Nations has said. Thousands are in danger of reaching adulthood without experiencing their first day at school.

UN global education envoy Gordon Brown – former UK prime minister and former MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath – wants to ensure that by 2017 every Syrian refugee child is getting an education.

Here, TESS looks at the enormity of this challenge and how Mr Brown intends to achieve his goal.

How many Syrian refugee children have access to education?

The UN says about 500,000 refugee children have access to schools, including in a project whereby schools in Lebanon are using a “double shift” system to increase capacity.

Local Lebanese children are using classrooms in the morning and refugee children later in the day. But the majority of refugee children remain out of school.

So what’s Mr Brown’s plan?

He wants to give educational opportunities to 1 million refugee boys and girls across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey this year. His ambition is that by next year every refugee child will be offered a place at school. The total cost is expected to be $750 million (£523 million). The first instalment of $250 million (£174m) had been secured from the European Union and donors in the Gulf.

How will the money be spent?

Double-shift schools are being seen as the key because the system avoids the huge capital cost of building and there are thousands of exiled Syrian teachers available for work. What is needed, says Mr Brown, is the money to keep the schools open, which is around $10 per school place per week.

So once the cash is raised, the problem is solved?

Not exactly. Not everyone agrees that double-shift schools are the best way forward. There are fears that local children suffer because their time in school is reduced. There is also a question mark over the quality of education on offer in some Middle Eastern countries, such as Lebanon. A World Bank study reported that Syrian children and parents “related many stories about mistreatment, verbal abuse and corporal punishment” at Lebanese schools.

On the other hand, traumatic experiences and the difficulties of life as a refugee can lead to behavioural problems among Syrian children in school, which most teachers have not been trained to cope with.

Is there any reason to be optimistic?

United Nations agencies and partners train public school teachers in working with children who need additional support. In Jordan, Unicef, Unesco and partner organisations provide teacher-training in camps and urban areas on coaching strategies, teaching in emergencies and supporting children who have lived through a crisis.

Where are most Syrian refugees located?

Most of the refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Without education on offer, Mr Brown argues, parents will see no choice but to try and get to Europe.

What proportion of refugees have so far sought asylum in Europe?

The number of Syrians arriving in Europe seeking international protection continues to increase. Between April 2011 and November last year there were more than 800,000 Syrian asylum applications in Europe. Over half were made in Serbia and Germany.

How are schools coping in Germany?

German authorities estimate the total number of school-aged newcomers in 2015 to be 325,000. According to one teaching union, up to 20,000 additional teachers will be needed to cover the existing gap and cope with unexpected arrivals. There were reports recently that Germany had hired more than 8,500 tutors to integrate the newcomers.

What is the UK doing?

The UK opened its doors to 1,000 Syrian refugees last year under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme; 100 arrived in Scotland in December. The UK will accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years. Last week, a group of MPs suggested the UK should also resettle 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian children, something Save the Children has been campaigning for.


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