Thousands of refugee children losing out on quality education in Jordan's largest Syrian camp

Five years since opening, the Za'atari camp is in need of more trained teachers to help boost education pass rates.

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A plea for more trained teachers and improved safety in makeshift schools for tens of thousands of children fleeing Syrian conflict has been made at the Za’atari camp in Jordan.

The camp opened in the north of the country five years ago to deal with the sudden influx of refugees escaping the brutality of war in their homeland.

Forced from their homes, the move marked more than just the loss of their country, but also their education and opportunity.

Many slipped into child labour or early marriage as communities struggled to cope, with half of all Syrian households in Jordan now thought to rely on some income generated by a child.

“The impact on the availability of quality education has been felt by Syrian and Jordanian families alike,” said Rania Malki, CEO of Save the Children Jordan.

“The Jordanian government have made huge commitments to give all school children the chance of an education, but this is just half the battle."

Since the start of the war, up to 1.3m Syrians are believed to have crossed the border into Jordan, placing a massive strain on the education system.

In 2016, the Jordanian government vowed to turn the situation around.

At an international donor conference in London it pledged to get all out-of-school children into classrooms by September 2017 and created 75,000 places – an additional 50,000 in public schools, plus 25,000 in non-formal education providing accredited ‘catch up classes’ as a bridge to formal education.

The Za’atari camp is the largets Syrian refugee camp in the world, home to about 80,000 refugees.

Since it opened, huge strides have been made to improve schooling, with 29 formal education places available in morning or afternoon shifts in 14 schools.

This summer, Save the Children will take up the ‘Back to School’ campaign, run in coordination with UNICE.

It hopes to identify out-of-school children, including those who have been out of school for several years, and get them back to the classroom.

“Children have missed a significant part of their formative education and need additional support if they are going to catch up,” added Ms Malki.

There are other less visible barriers too, with many children experiencing prejudice or bullying.

Ahmed, now 16, came from Syria four years ago and lived with his family in a host community outside of Amman. He attended public school for a while, but later dropped out.

“I was in year six, but unable to read and write,” he said.

"My classmates who were younger than me used to complain and say why should we put up with you, you are disturbing us.

“When I told the teacher that I am not able to write or read, he said it was not his problem and I had to be punished for not doing my homework. This made me hate school.”

Much work is needed to improve the quality of education on offer.

In 2014/15, it was reported that more than half of students sitting the official Jordanian 'tawjihi' examinations failed. In over 338 public schools, no students at all passed.

Save the Children provides learning support for 200,000 children across the country, aimed at helping children prepare for and access formal education.

For those who are unable to enrol in public schools, access is offered to quality education programmes that include basic and advanced literacy and numeracy sessions aimed at helping children catch up on the learning they have missed.

Drop in centres aim to identify children involved in child labour, and work with families to support their return to school.

With many children having experienced the horrors and grief of war, psychological support is also available to enable to help them to thrive inside and outside of the classroom.

“Teachers need to have adequate training while external obstacles like child labour, early marriage and fear of harassment need to be addressed in coordination,” Ms Malki said.

“The International community must keep its promise to support countries like Jordan, so that children can not only stay in school, but also have a real chance to learn whilst they are there.

“These are children who will rebuild Syria when the war is over – we need to invest in them and their right to education.”