Syrian refugee children struggle to get back to school

With no end in sight for the refugee crisis in Syria, providing access to education for displaced children is just one among many urgent needs as humanitarian conditions grow increasingly dire.

By Kathryn Reid and Patricia Mouamar
Published August 13, 2013 at 03:30pm PDT

It’s summer break for the intermediate school students in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, but their classrooms are buzzing with activity. About 300 Syrian refugees — from kindergarteners to fifth-graders — are there, eagerly practicing math, Arabic, and English. Their teachers, most of them Syrians, are equally excited.

Students are working hard to be ready to learn when the Lebanese school year starts in September.

“Coming here is the best thing that happened to me since we left [Syria],” says 8-year-old Jouri, who took part in a World Vision educational program along with her younger brother, Khaled. “When we first came to Lebanon, I started nagging my dad to register me in school, but he kept telling me there is no place for me.”

Daunting obstacles

Among children affected by civil war in Syria, preparing to return to school is not as simple as getting new notebooks and backpacks.

For most of the children, language is their immediate obstacle to success. In Syria, instruction was in Arabic. In Lebanese schools, math and science are taught in French or English.

Poverty sends many older children to work instead of school and keeps younger ones from accessing transportation, uniforms, and lunches.

Last year, only 20 percent of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon attended school. This year, the numbers of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon could reach 550,000, putting even more pressure on local schools.

Rushing to meet the vast need

Many schools will run two shifts of classes to accommodate more refugees. Humanitarian organizations like World Vision are struggling to find ways and the means to get more refugees into classrooms. Their programs include accelerated learning for “out-of-school” children, remedial classes for those who are struggling to keep up, and nonformal education in child-friendly meeting places.

They’re also supporting more teachers, adding bathroom facilities, and providing supplies. However, less than 25 percent of the money needed for refugee education has been funded by the international community.

Due to the conflict, many children had been out of school for months before they even left Syria, because their schools were destroyed or occupied by families displaced by the conflict. This past year, Jouri only attended school in Syria for three weeks before it was bombed repeatedly.

”There were still unexploded bombs inside the school; we could not send our children there anymore,” says Hala, Jouri's mother.

Preventing a “lost generation”

”The longer a child is out of school, the harder it is to catch up with peers and their education overall,” says Lara Lteif, World Vision’s education project coordinator. ”Refugee children are among the most vulnerable to falling behind on the educational level, which might cost them their future.”

The U.N. children’s agency has warned that Syria’s children risk becoming a “lost generation,” scarred by trauma and without education or skills.

School is the answer for Jouri and thousands of other Syrian refugees. The chance to learn in school, however hard-won, is their best opportunity for hope and healing.

Learn more

Read more about the conflict in Syria, the refugee crisis, and World Vision’s response to the emergency.

Three ways you can help

Please join us in continuing to pray for children, families, and communities affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Pray especially for those forced to flee their homes and for host communities that are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced. Pray, too, for children whose educations have been disrupted at a time when they should be returning to school.

Make a one-time donation to provide assistance for Syrian refugees. Your gift will help us provide interventions like basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as established Child-Friendly Spaces and informal education to provide affected children with a safe place to play, learn, and interact with their peers.

Give monthly to provide assistance for children affected by war and conflict. Your monthly donation will help reach even more children around the world whose lives have been shattered by violence.