It has been two years since crisis erupted in the Syrian Arab Republic. Children are paying the heaviest price.
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|UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on efforts to ensure that Syrian children can continue their education amidst conflict. Watch in RealPlayer|
By Iman Morooka
HOMS, Syrian Arab Republic, 12 March 2013 – Syrian students in winter sweaters sit in a classroom decorated with colourful drawings, listening intently to their enthusiastic young teacher explain Arabic grammar.
The classroom is located in a shelter in Homs city where families, mainly from other parts of the city, have taken refuge. Many of the neighbourhoods in Homs have become uninhabitable because of the continued fighting and destruction of homes and livelihoods.
Currently, more than 4,000 children in Homs are attending remedial classes in 14 shelters operated with a partner NGO. The classes offer schoolchildren 4 to 12 years old a safe environment in which they can catch up with their schooling, while engaging in recreational activities. Some children haven’t been in formal school for up to a year or more.
“The quality of school education is deteriorating,” says Siham*, a remedial class teacher. “That is why we need additional classes like these. Most children who come here are not attending primary school at all because there is not enough space for all children.”
Afternoon classes at the shelter are busiest, she says, when up to five children have to share one bench.
|Children attend a remedial class held inside a building sheltering displaced families in Homs, Syrian Arab Republic.|
Shortage of schools
According to the Ministry of Education, 1,899 of the country’s 22,000 schools are currently being used as shelters, and another 2,445 have been damaged. There is enormous pressure on still-functioning classrooms, which now accommodate double or triple the usual number of students.
To cope with the situation, functioning schools operate in two or three shifts each day, by reducing the numbers of lessons and cutting down on some subjects.
“In some cases, families don’t want to send their children outside to attend school because of insecurities, and they prefer that they attend class inside the shelters,” says Siham. “Fighting breaks out even around this area.”
There are bullet holes on the exterior of the building.
Children need a place to learn
“Children need a place to learn, a place to take their minds off the violence and bloodshed,” says Siham. She, herself, was displaced with her family about a year ago, when a rocket destroyed their house.
“I know that, to be able to become a doctor, I need to get full marks in my studies,” says her 9-year-old sister. “I want to become a children’s doctor, because I want to make sick children feel better.”
A woman whose two children attend remedial classes has noted a change in them: “They seem so much happier. They enjoy going to the classes, and I am relieved that they get to be busy with something productive. I hope more of them will be established for other children.”
|The classes are run in four shifts daily, providing children aged 4 to 12 with lessons in Arabic and mathematics, as well as with recreational activity.|
“Some children, especially when they first started attending class, were overly hesitant and frightened of contact with people and couldn’t engage with other children,” says another teacher.
“We give these children special attention, and with consistent effort, they start to show improvement. There is one child, for instance, who was so afraid at the beginning and would never attend class without his brother. Today, he came on his own. This is a big step forward.”
Besides informal remedial classes, UNICEF is supporting similar activities through school clubs organized in public schools with the Ministry of Education, in an effort to reach children with remedial education and psychosocial support. UNICEF has reached 250 schools, and the number of children benefitting from the school club intervention has reached about 70,211 (almost 47 per cent of the targeted 150,000 children), expanding to cover the Rural Damascus, Deraa, Tartus, Lattakia, Homs, Hama, and Qunitera governorates.
UNICEF also supports the operation and continuation of public schools by providing critical learning and teaching materials amid a severe shortage of school materials, in addition to rehabilitating damaged schools and providing prefabricated temporary schools.
Crisis in Syria