Jordan’s Schools Buckle Under Weight of Syrian Refugees

07-10-2013 11:19 AM

Ammon News - AMMAN, Jordan — The New York Times- Yusra Shinwan 44, and her four school-age children arrived in Jordan in June, refugees from the Syrian civil war. Her husband, a school librarian, chose to stay behind after being told he would lose his job if he left.

More than half a million Syrians were registered with the U.N. refugee agency in Jordan at the end of last month, most of them women and children. School–age children from 5 to 17 years old make up 35 percent of the Syrian refugee population in Jordan.

The country’s public school system, already overstretched and overcrowded, is struggling to cope. Aid agencies and officials are warning of a “lost generation.”

After one night in the Zaatari refugee camp, Mrs. Shinwan and her children moved to a small apartment in the industrial city of Zarqa, northeast of Amman.

At the start of the school year on Aug. 28, she tried to register the children in two public schools near her new home. At both, she said, the principles told her to wait until a double shift system could be put in place, with one set of students attending in the morning and another, mostly Syrian, in the afternoon. She is still waiting.

“My 13-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter look around and see people their age going to school and they feel left behind,” Mrs. Shinwan said.

“I fled for their safety, but now they are restless and angry,” she said. “They are telling me they are wasting their education and their future. They want to go back to school in Syria.”

In practice, that is not an option for many. The international aid organization Save the Children said this summer it estimated that more than a fifth of schools inside Syria had been destroyed or made unusable since the conflict started, affecting the education of 2.5 million youths.

In Jordan and Lebanon, aid agencies are warning that Syrian children who do not attend school are at increased risk of abuses including child labor and early marriage.

Jordan’s Ministry of Education announced earlier this year that it was trying to eliminate double shifts at schools to improve the quality of education.

Now, it has been forced to backtrack, to try to accommodate both the influx of Syrian refugees and nearly 35,000 Jordanian and expatriate children who have transferred, mostly for financial reasons, from private to public schools this year.

Double-shift teaching not only puts an added strain on teachers, it also wears out school infrastructure, whether furniture, bathrooms or computers.

“Jordanian parents come to me and complain about the in the quality of education for their children,” said Abdullah Al Khattab, governor of Mafraq, a district near the border with the largest concentration of Syrian refugees.

The influx has brought a boom for some Mafraq businesses, like real estate, restaurants, or market stalls. But the pressure it has put on services and utilities like education and water supply have stretched the district’s resources to their limits.

“My town is struggling to keep up with the numbers of Syrians because of the pressure on natural resources but also the lack of funding when it comes to education,” Mr. Khattab said.

More than 81,000 Syrian refugee children are enrolled in learning programs in Jordan, according to Unicef. The big number poses a challenge, but so does low attendance, especially at the Zaatari camp, which is home to nearly 23 percent of the Syrian refugee population.

“The focus has been on registering children,” said Curt Rhodes, international director of Questscope, an organization aiding social development in the Middle East. “It has not been on how to help them stay in school.”

There are almost 30,000 school-age children in Zaatari, of whom about 15,000 have been enrolled in the camp’s three schools, according to Unicef. But actual attendance at the end of September was barely 2,000, Mr. Rhodes said.

Low attendance rates reflect multiple problems: a lack of security for children — especially girls — walking to school; the disruption of normal routines in families leading transient lives; and the development of a vast unregulated economy that attracts some children to work instead of attending school.

Jordan’s minimum age for working is 16 but in Amman and in rural areas it has become increasingly common to see Syrian children illegally working on construction sites, in the fields, or as day laborers to support their families. The government estimates their number at 30,000 and the International Labor Organization says the number is rising.

Given the enrollment difficulties faced by people like Mrs. Shinwan, “education outside of the school needs to be focused on as well,” said Mr. Rhodes, whose organization offers informal education and mentoring programs for refugee children. “Without education, children will so quickly lose everything and a sense of who they are. They’ll just have the war.”

“When you grow up without an education it reduces the ability to form civil trust and that means they are heading for conflict,” he said.

Michele Servadei, Unicef’s deputy representative in Jordan, sounded a similar warning.“You can look at it through a security perspective,” Mr. Servadei said. Children out of school are at risk of being abused, exploited and “can end up being recruited by armed forces or groups inside and outside Syria,” he said.

Mr. Servadei said Unicef is trying to combat that risk by offering Syrian and Jordanian families small cash grants of about $45 a month on the condition that they enroll working children in school. “We monitor their attendance and if they out, we stop the cash assistance,” he said. “For now we have a target of 2,000 children in urban areas.”

For people like Mrs. Shinwan, such programs may not be enough. Living outside the refugee camp — as does more than 70 percent of the Syrian refugee population — she is paying $300 a month in rent. Now, after four months, she said, she can no longer afford it.

“I can’t go to the camp,” she said. “It’s not a place I want to raise my children.”

“If they can’t go to school here and I can’t pay the rent, I might end up going back to the war in Syria.”

  • no comments

All comments are reviewed and posted only if approved.
Ammon News reserves the right to delete any comment at any time, and for any reason, and will not publish any comment containing offense or deviating from the subject at hand, or to include the names of any personalities or to stir up sectarian, sectarian or racial strife, hoping to adhere to a high level of the comments as they express The extent of the progress and culture of Ammon News' visitors, noting that the comments are expressed only by the owners.
name : *
show email
comment : *
Verification code : Refresh
write code :