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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Syrian students speak out on rehabilitating over-stretched schools

Support from UNICEF and European Union

© UNICEF video
A student in Syria, where children are spearheading a school needs-assessment programme supported by UNICEF and the European Union.

By Rob Sixsmith

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 14 June 2010 – When it comes to the needs of the local school, everyone has an opinion.

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Young people are frequently discounted in discussions about their own classrooms. A new programme, however, is helping to ensure that students have a say in the changes that take place in their schools. Supported by UNICEF and the European Union, the innovative education assessment process is tailored to understanding the day-to-day needs of parents, teachers and students.

© UNICEF video
Young Syrian students at one of the many schools that are struggling with an influx of refugees.

Influx of refugees

The education assessment programme is based around community meetings, which allow students a chance to raise concerns and voice suggestions about their school environments. The comments are often insightful and full of practical details.

Nareen Al Qaaq, an eighth grader at a school in Damascus, the Syrian capital, said she attended one meeting to speak out about the equipment missing in her school.

“We are the children and the only ones who can speak for students,” said Nareen. “For example, the desks are completely smashed and if we need to drink water we cannot, because there are no taps. In summer, it is even worse.”

The meetings vary in the types of issues raised. But with a major influx of Iraqi refugees still entering the country and larger number of students to accommodate in Syrian schools each day, the consistent message is that schools across the country need help.

To help ease this burden, UNICEF and the European Union are offering a range of basic commodities and rehabilitation services to Syrian schools. Using the educational assessments, individual schools can choose the elements they most need – and then implement them.

© UNICEF video
A school in Syria suffers from overcrowding. A UNICEF-supported programme in the country is encouraging students to speak out about the needs of their schools.

A targeted response

The participation of students, staff, teachers, parents and students has helped ensure that schools receive the most relevant assistance for their individual needs. It is a targeted response to the multi-faceted problems of an education system under severe pressure.

“This cooperation is really important as we now only equip schools with the most necessary things,” said head teacher Muhammad Naser Muhammad. “This serves the teaching process.”

The goal is to create a sustainable education programme that adapts and works with the needs of its students – be they from Syria, Iraq or elsewhere.

“The best thing is that you asked the kids, because they have every right to give their voice in the school they study in,” said teacher Samira Abu Salmaan. While they are sometimes shy, she added, even students as young as six years of age are more than willing to pitch in. And the merit of even the youngest students’ concerns is taking many by surprise.

“I didn’t think anyone would care,” admitted Mr. Muhammad. “But they do, they really do.”




30 May 2010: UNICEF's Rob Sixsmith reports from the Syrian Arab Republic on students' involvement in improving their own education.
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