A second chance at education

UNICEF-supported Drop-Out centres provide vulnerable children with continued education

Basel Al-Smadi
18-year-old Aya attends the UNICEF-supported drop-out proramme in Irbid, Jordan
30 September 2020

Aya, 18 years old, left her home in Syria in 2013 and moved with her mother and four siblings to Irbid, Jordan. Once they settled in their new home, Aya enthusiastically restarted her education where she had left off in Syria, in the fifth grade.

Aya struggled to integrate into the new environment in Jordan, facing bullying and discrimination from the other children. Coupled with the stress she was already feeling after leaving her war-torn country, her classmates’ unfriendly welcome pushed Aya to drop out of school.

"My mother was completely against the idea, but I kept insisting, I didn’t want to go to that place anymore,"

Aya, 18

Aya spent the next four years out-of-education and eventually started helping her mother with her home-based business, cooking and selling Syrian meals, which was the family’s only source of income.

“This also affected my decision to go back to school, I felt responsible for supporting my younger siblings. I tried to find any job, but it was impossible because I didn’t have a school certificate or work experience.”

For most school dropouts in Jordan, and especially refugees, it is difficult to secure formal employment or even formal training. Sometimes, school drop-outs resort to accepting underpaid or dangerous informal work.

"After staying home for a while, watching my friends and neighbors go to school made rethink my decision. I realized that I’ve missed out on a lot. I definitely regretted leaving school,"

After spending over three years out of education, Aya had the option to enroll in the Drop-Out programme.

“I learned about the programme two years ago. I was very excited about the idea of continuing my education and potentially going to university, so I enrolled right away,” she says.

UNICEF Jordan’s non-formal education Drop-Out programme targets out-of-school children aged 13 years and above who have been out-of-school for more than three years, and are therefore not eligible for formal education in Jordan’s schools.

After completing the programme, adolescents receive a document equivalent to a 10th grade certificate, which enables them to access vocational and technical training, formal education, or work opportunities. The programme utilizes a Participatory Learning Methodology, which emphasizes question-asking, critical thinking, and dialogue.

Aya participating in her mathematics class.

“When I first came to class, I knew absolutely nothing, but the teachers and the other girls were very kind and never made me feel out of place. They started with me from the basics and were very patient”

On March 15th, the Jordanian government imposed a full lockdown in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, initiating a temporary closure of schools. To ensure that children continue learning, all UNICEF-supported centres rapidly shifted to online learning for beneficiaries enrolled in its non-formal education programmes.

“The lockdown period was extremely difficult for everyone. Even though the teachers did their best to explain everything to us, we still missed our classroom and the face-to-face interaction between us,” Aya says.

“Returning to school wasn’t easy, and after getting used to it, I was asked to stay at home again. It was very difficult.”

To Aya, learning from home reminded her of the years she spent away from school, but she tried her best to dismiss the negative thoughts and instead stay focused on her studies.

“I followed the online classes almost daily, but sometimes we would lose internet connectivity. I used to call my teachers, and they were kind enough to explain the class to me over the phone.”

Jordan has a very young population, with nearly 2.5 million school-aged children, making up nearly one-fourth of the country’s population. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education and donors to improve the learning environment in Jordan and to prevent school drop-outs. Since 2016, UNICEF-supported Drop-Out centres have increased from 62 to 169 in partnership with four non-governmental organizaitons, benefiting over 10,000 children to date.

Thanks to the generous and continuous support of FCDO, UNICEF continues to support vulnerable out-of-school boys and girls in their return to school in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.