By Tamer al-Samadi/ Al Monitor
Fatima's wishes — which have reached the point of begging — are limited to her desire to see the end of the continuous suffering of students who have lost their families and can no longer return to their schools, which "regime soldiers transformed into military barracks." Fatima came to Jordan four months ago accompanied by her sister, the sole survivor from shelling that targeted her neighborhood and killed all other members of her family. She enrolled in one of the camp's schools, which are funded by international relief organizations.
She could not cope with the Jordanian curriculum. She noted, "It was difficult, and I will not benefit from it when I return to Syria to complete my baccalaureate." She added tearfully, "I had always hoped to finish my baccalaureate and enter university to study medicine, but Bashar al-Assad (the Syrian president) denied us of our dreams, and turned the country into a bloodbath."
Fatima's words echoed stronger as her body trembled from the cold in the barren desert camp. She spoke of the suffering of thousands of her colleagues that have been forced to enroll in school in two stages, due to the small size of the schools and overcrowded classes.
As Fatima complained about the difficulty of the circumstances and the Jordanian curriculum, Rafaat — another high school student — couldn't stay in the school for long. During our meeting he kept repeating the question: "What study are you talking about? We fled here from the bombing. Death was both my companion and my mother along the way. Miraculously, we survived, but my three brothers were all killed by snipers in the city of Homs." Like Raafat, many adolescents have "erased" the idea of returning to school from their list of daily concerns, or even their future aspirations. They hang on to the sad images of schools that have been destroyed or occupied by regime soldiers.
Inside the walls of the camp — which houses thousands of numbered tents that are scattered deep into the desert — there are many other stories. Rana, a female student in the tenth grade, expresses her sorrow at the fact that she is far from her schoolmates in her hometown in the countryside of Idlib. With a trembling voice, she recounts how her school was bombed that bloody night, prior to one of her classmates being martyred in the bloodiest of fashions at the hands of snipers. The situation does not differ for Shams, who recalled shocking scenes of one of her classmates being killed by gunfire from the Shabiha, after they raped her.
Creativity despite the circumstances
Yet, in the face of these martyrdoms, covered in the taste of death and the scent of destruction, Aisha — an Arabic language teacher who fled from the city of Daraa — spoke of the bright aspects of the lives of her young students in the camp's primary school. She spoke of the "creativity" these harsh conditions imposed upon her students. In a voice overcome by hope, the teacher noted, "Despite the worry and sorrow that fills us all regarding the fate of our children, there is a glimmer of hope for a brighter tomorrow."
She continued, "I was very surprised by the condition of many of the young students as a result of what they have gone through. These harsh experiences over the past few months — which have been characterized by blood and lose of loved ones — have unleashed many talents."
Aisha explained, "Here in this camp, we discovered the hidden potential of the children, who decided to draw pictures of what they had endured and witnessed, including crimes affecting innocent civilians. Others composed poetry and gave impressive speeches, with total innocence and of their own accord."
Despite that the Syrian and Jordanian teachers are following the curriculum taught by the Jordanian Ministry of Education, the displaced students do not hide their fears that they will not receive official diplomas, because their supporting documents were lost or damaged during the events. The competent authorities in Jordan have refused to grant these students certificates confirming that they have successfully completed this educational level.
Authorities in the ministry of education confirm that in this case, the certificates are "pending until the end of the situation in Syria, which will allow for these students to secure the necessary documents that show which level the student has completed in his hometown before the outbreak of protests." The biggest problem is that the Jordanian authorities will not teach displaced students the baccalaureate level, which is known in Jordan as the "tawjihi" stage. If a student successfully completes this stage, he or she is able to continue on to university studies.
One of the Syrian directors at the Zaatari camp confirmed the Jordanian government's decision to forbid teaching displaced students the baccalaureate level because of "procedural" reasons, noting that the relevant authorities hope that the Syrian crisis will end quickly, "so the students can return to their country and complete their studies there."
This is not the end of the problems, this director noted that there are other, equally complex problems, including a lack of curricula distributed to students, a reduction in teaching hours because of the "dual period" system, which delays the completion of the coursework on time, in addition to poor living conditions inside the camp, and major differences in the Syrian and Jordanian curricula.
The violence that has been ongoing since March 2011 has caused extensive damage to thousands of Syrian schools. Many of them have been transformed into military barracks or shelters for the displaced, according to reports by international organizations, including Human Rights Watch.
Jordan decided to allow Syrian students to enroll in the primary and secondary levels in public schools, because of the current events in their country. The government issued a decision to accept these students and exempting them from paying school fees and textbook fees. Official figures released by the ministry of education indicate that about 4,000 students have enrolled in schools within the Zaatari camp, alongside 20,000 others who have begun their studies outside the camp's walls.