By Vatican News staff writer
In Syria, an estimated 2.45 million school-age children are out of school while 1.6 million more are at risk of dropping out.
This alarming number, highlighted by a report released by Save the Children, draws attention to the educational situation in the country which, in addition to struggling with the devastating effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, has experienced nearly a decade of conflicts, displacements and inadequate investments in education.
The report titled “Reversing gains” was released on Wednesday.
Challenges to education
A survey carried out on 489 teachers in northern Syria revealed that 60 per cent of them cited the coronavirus pandemic as one of the major reasons that force children out of school. However, around 63 percent reported that endemic poverty prevents caregivers from sending their children to school and 61 percent cited child labour – a probable consequence of poverty – as one of the reasons preventing children from attending school. A third of the teachers cited conflicts and attacks on education facilities especially those from North West Syria.
Moreover, the loss of physical learning spaces – a direct result of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions - forces education to take place remotely. This change causes challenges to many who do not have access to the internet and other devices that permit remote education.
Save the Children reports a reduction in students in its programs from 11,200 in the first quarter of 2020 to about 7,775 in the second quarter. In some areas in North West Syria, Save the Children’s partners said nearly 50 percent of students lost access to formal and non-formal education services after schools’ suspension in March 2020 due to interruptions caused by the pandemic.
Director of Syria for Save the Children, Sonia Khush, noted that “A decade of conflict has dragged millions of Syrian families into poverty, forced children to work just to survive and drove hundreds of thousands of them to drop out of school, making education a pipe dream.” She added that “Covid-19 has further exacerbated the existing challenges that prevented children from learning” and expressed fears that those who dropped out of school this year will never return.”
Recommendations and appeals
Save the Children recommends some measures to be taken – not only to address the impact of the pandemic on education - but also the structural issues created by the long-drawn conflict and poor investment in education in Syria.
The humanitarian organization proposes initiating serious and timely discussions about the reopening of schools with a hybrid mixture of in-person and remote approaches in keeping with the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 safety standards. To achieve this, Save the Children calls on humanitarian organizations to provide the necessary support to ensure global safety guidelines as well as to facilitate practical steps to reopen schools.
Save the Children also appeals to donors to support humanitarian interventions that alleviate the economic pressure on households so that caregivers can keep their children engaged in learning. They encourage education authorities and donors to also invest in conducive education environments for children.
At the same time, the organization calls on NGOs and humanitarian actors to actively invest in multi-sectoral approaches in order to ensure that children can access basic services, including learning and protection, both physically and remotely.