Breaking all barriers: 8 million children sit end-of-year exams across the Middle East and North Africa

Conflict, poverty, distance to school, overcrowding & lack of teachers among the many challenges children face to complete their education

11 June 2018
a boy reading a book in a classroom
Saleh [*name changed], 15, studies in a UNICEF-supported accommodation centre for children taking the national Grade 9 and Grade 12 exams, Aleppo, Syria.

AMMAN, 11 June 2018 – An estimated 8 million school children across the Middle East and North Africa are sitting their year-end school exams.

Children in the region face a host of challenges to stay in school and complete their national exams. Families increasingly face poverty, child labour, inability to afford transportation to school, overcrowding, lack of teachers and school space, and low quality education.

“Wherever they live across the region, nothing should stop children from finishing and certifying their education through national exams,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

One in five children across the region lives in conflict-affected countries:

  • To reach national exam centres in Syria, children risk getting stopped and questioned at checkpoints. The seven-year long war has forced 2.1 million children out of school[1]. There have been 347 verified attacks against schools and education personnel since the conflict started in 2011[2].


  • Nearly 20 percent of schools in Yemen can no longer be used because they are destroyed, damaged, sheltering displaced families or used for military purposes. Since the conflict escalated in 2015, half a million children have dropped out of school, bringing the total number of out-of-school children to 2 million. Teachers have not been paid in over a year.


  • In Iraq, where one in four children live in poverty, half of the schools need rehabilitation after years of fighting and violence. Many children are forced to travel for hours in scorching heat to reach the exam sites.


  • In the State of Palestine, over 8,000 children and 400 teachers need protection to safely access school in some areas of the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, only five hours of electricity a day means children study in extreme heat and rely on phone light and candles to revise at night. Two out of three schools operate on double or triple shifts.


  • In Sudan, children from conflict-affected areas or who have been displaced by violence must travel long distances just to sit their exams.


  • An estimated 489 schools have been affected by the conflict in Libya, affecting the education of an estimated 260,000 students. Recent violence in the eastern city of Derna and Sabha in the south west, have forced many schools to close.


  • Over half of all Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are not in school because they have to work to make ends meet, their families are on the move or because they can’t afford transportation to school.


“School children across the region deserve praise and admiration for their determination to overcome challenges and sometimes risk their lives just to sit for their exams and continue their schooling. We wish them all the best of luck!” said Cappelaere. “UNICEF reiterates its call on education authorities to facilitate children’s access to exams: a fundamental and potentially life-changing milestone for their future and the future of the region.”


Note to editors

UNICEF continues to support children to attend school across the region, including by providing school supplies, school rehabilitation, catch up classes, transportation, cash assistance to families and technical support to education authorities.      

With a wide network of partners, UNICEF is working to support children’s access to exams:

  • In Iraq, UNICEF is helping to provide remedial classes for children preparing for national exams. UNICEF is working to secure transportation for internally displaced children in camps to get to their exam centres. UNICEF also supports an awareness campaign to provide information about exam centres and regulations for the participation of internally displaced children.


  • In Lebanon, UNICEF provides support services for children with special needs who are sitting their national exams. In 2017, 600 children with disabilities benefitted from these services.


  • In Libya, UNICEF supports formal and informal education for children in conflict-affected areas, including assistance for end-of-year exams. Since the beginning of 2018, UNICEF has delivered learning supplies to 37,800 girls and boys in conflict-affected areas.


  • In Sudan, UNICEF and partners have supported almost 6,500 children affected by conflict, including South-Sudanese refugees to take their national exams by facilitating their travel and accommodation at exam sites in Central, South, North Darfur and White Nile states.


  • In Syria, UNICEF is assisting almost 23,000 children and youth to cross active conflict lines to sit for final exams in grades 9 and 12.


  • In Yemen, UNICEF and partners are supporting 837,266 students in grades 9 and 12 to sit for their exams.


[1] No Lost Generation, We made a promise: Ensuring learning pathways and protection for Syrian children and youth, full report April 2018

[2] United Nations: Attacks of Education in Syria March 2011- 2017

Media contacts

Juliette Touma
Regional Chief of Communications
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962798674628
Tamara Kummer
Communications Specialist
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa
Tel: 00962 797 588 550


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. 

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook