The war has deprived about three million Syrian children of education, including 800,000 refugees in neighboring countries, according to UNICEF. The damage to the education sector is estimated at more than 250 billion Syrian pounds, including 7,400 schools which have been destroyed or have been put out of service. During the conflict, about 1,900 schools have been used as centers for displaced families, while some have been turned into military barracks for combat purposes.
The displacement of hundreds of thousands of students has resulted in schools handling numbers above their capacity to absorb. Some classrooms made to handle 25 students are now receiving 40 or 50.
The conditions of displacement and the deteriorating economic situation have also forced thousands of students to work and to beg, so as to enable them to continue their education and support their destitute families. This has led to a decline in their level of education and knowledge, and has subjected them to repeated failure.
Another hardship has affected children in areas controlled by hardline armed groups, as the schools have delivered unofficial curricula, which mostly have a religious character. This has put their education back several years, as government schools do not recognize the education that they received outside regime controlled areas. Most have returned to previous grades and sometimes to the first grade.
In recent years, the government educational sector has lost tens of thousands of teachers. The Teachers Syndicate decided to dismiss about 70,000 teachers as a result of various wartime conditions, while thousands have left through informal means to avoid death, arrest, or to search for a better future. At the end of 2011, the government began to fire a series of teachers from their positions for political reasons or due to their refusal to perform reserve service. Most of those wanted for service refrained from going to their schools out of fear of being arrested.
Even today, dismissal decisions are being undertaken against them, with the latest issued in August 2018, which included more than 200 teachers, including 71 in Suweida province. Suweida previously lost about 150 teachers to similar decisions, according to the Arabic language teacher Hussam, who was one of them.
Hussam said of this decision, “The old educational faculty, which had proven experience and prominent educational capacities, was changed out to appoint amateur teachers who lack the slightest skills and most of whom suffer from difficulties in understanding the new curriculums. Some of them have not received higher education or are still university students. This has pushed some students to take private lessons with the fired teachers in private houses—like my students.”
The Economic Situation for Teachers Harms Their Students
Many teachers working in government schools have been forced to find secondary work to pay for simple living costs, as their income does not exceed 40,000 Syrian pounds, which is hardly enough to pay for rent or the expenses of a small family.
Saeed, a math teacher, was forced to open a small shop to secure his livelihood. Saeed says, “I forgot that I was a teacher, since I stayed in the shop, with accounts and bills and fighting with customers, more than I was in the school or even at home. Before the war, my salary as a teacher was 250 dollars, while today I make less than 80 dollars.” Regarding the impact of his new work on his work as a teacher, Saeed said, “Of course, it affected my work as a teacher, and harmed my students. While giving lessons, images of vegetables and packages and prices would come to mind, and I would confuse the information I was offering. I felt that my energies were drained and that my thinking and focus was scattered.”
Saeed’s situation was better than that of his colleague Rifaat, a teacher of life sciences, who formerly worked as a taxi driver in Damascus in the evenings. On that, he says, “My income as a teacher was not enough to pay the rent of my house. The taxi gave me twice that much income. Education became the worst profession you could practice.” He added, “During classes, I felt tired and exhausted. I knew that I was not being fair to my students, but how could I be fair to them when no one was fair to me? How could a driver suffering all day from noise and sight and psychological pollution raise the next generation? Could I attend the classes when I was driving a car and arguing with passengers over fares?”
Traditional Curriculums and Sterile Teaching Methods
Government education has continued in its traditional approaches in terms of information and the way it is transferred to students, despite the challenges that the curriculum has encountered in recent years. Many teachers also do not undergo any training courses to develop their educational tools and skills.
Regarding the curriculums, Roua, an Assistant Director of a school in Damascus, says, “Many of them still depend on memorization and repetition. For students to be successful on the tests, their mind needs to be a recording tool storing all the information in the curriculum, regardless of their comprehension or retention. As soon as they leave the examination hall, they’ll forget it immediately. They are a victim of an educational system which the teacher graduated from.” Roua believes that this method “does not stimulate the student’s mind and does not develop their intellectual and creative abilities, because it does not apply interactive methods that develop their skills, participation in discussion, analysis or researching abilities.”
As a result of the educational system, today we find students who are out of primary school who cannot read or write at a decent level and are unable to solve basic arithmetic. We also find a major deficiency in foreign languages among many, which forces them to learn them new in private academies.
Given the circumstances, it has become hard for most students to be successful without depending on private teachers or the private academies and schools which have proliferated widely in recent years—especially the academies that offer follow-up and strengthening courses for all subjects, which has made the criteria for success and accomplishment available only to the rich.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.