Syrian refugee Muzoon Al Mellehan roamed the dusty grounds of the Zaatari camp in northern Jordan when she was a teenager, looking for young people not enrolled in school.
“I used to go from tent to tent and talk with anyone who felt education was not important to encourage them to attend school,” says Muzoon.
She and her family fled their home in southern Syria in 2013, two years after the outbreak of the revolt against five decades of Assad family rule. They settled in Zaatari, the largest of Jordan's two Syrian refugee camps. Both are situated in desert terrain in northern Jordan, near the border with Syria.
Last month, Muzoon returned to Zaatari, as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund, for the first time since she left Jordan with her family in 2015 for Britain, where they had obtained asylum.
She found that schools in Zaatari were better than when she was there, but many of the camp's 79,000 residents still were not attending them. A similar situation exists in Azraq, the other Syrian camp in Jordan, which has 40,000 refugees.
Unicef data shows that a large proportion of the 760,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan grew up in the kingdom outside the formal education system.
The situation, the organisation says, was affected by closures during Covid-19, with many refugees lacking access to the internet for remote learning.
The latest Unicef statistics for the 2021-22 school year show that 64 per cent of Syrian refugee children in Jordan were enrolled in grades ranging from KG2 to 12 — for ages between five and 18.
Muzoon says the lack of enrolment or dropping out from school could be related to anything from refugees living in remote areas without the money to pay for transport, crowded state schools in Jordan, early marriage, to deceased or divorced parents, which contributes to the risk of child labour.
“It depends on the family,” she says. “Another problem is availability of opportunity.”
In Syria, Muzoon was enrolled in school in her home town of Izraa in the Hauran Plain, the birthplace of the revolt. The conflict had turned into a civil war by the end of 2011 after the regime violently suppressed the initially peaceful protest movement.
Her father was a secondary schoolteacher in Izraa and many of her relatives were also teachers.
“I grew up in a family who emphasised learning. It affected my life,” says Muzoon, whose name means rainy cloud.
But many parents in Zaatari “were not attracted to the idea of studying in the camp” because they thought they would be returning to Syria soon.
“They thought when they go back they will send back their sons to school,” she said.
Their sentiment changed as the civil war showed no signs of ending.
“When the situation of Zaatari stabilised lots of children started regrettably feeling that the camp is their homeland,” Muzoon says.
Last month she finished a Master's degree in Security and International Conflict from Northumbria University. The university says it awards scholarships for a small number of “outstanding” students who have claimed asylum.
In Jordan, one in three Syrian refugees of secondary school age are enrolled in grades 11 and 12.
In Zaatari and Azraq, less than half of students who sit the final school year exams pass. Those who pass have almost no chance to go to university if they remain in Jordan because they cannot afford the fees.
“The grants are very limited,” says Muzoon. “Those who finish high school are so disappointed they cannot go to university.”