“No classrooms, no desks, no salaries, no heating, no books,” yet not giving up on education

“No classrooms, no desks, no salaries, no heating, no books,” yet not giving up on education

12. 8. 2019

Unlike most nine-year-olds, Majd is very excited about the prospect of school. “If there is a school here I will come every day,” he tells us. “I want to learn how to read and write.”

Majd and his family have spent the last nine months in a camp in northwest Syria, where there is no school. It is a very different life to the one they knew before the war. “We had a small piece of land which we used to plant,” his mother explains. “And we had three goats which we used for milk, yogurt and cheese. We had a simple and happy life.”

Four years ago, Majd’s family was forced out of their village by repeated attacks. The family has had to move three more times since then, with distressing consequences for Majd’s education. “We left the village when he was six,” Majd’s mother, Zeinab, explains. “He barely learnt few letters and some words. Now he can neither write nor read.”

No classrooms, no desks, no books 

Majd is not alone. In Idlib province, 1.7 million children are currently out of school. Most of these children are living in temporary camps, with no educational facilities. When schools do exist nearby, they are usually overcrowded and struggling to accommodate so many displaced children.

In Majd’s camp, a group of residents had previously started volunteering to teach the children but had soon run into obstacles. “They were unable to continue because of a lack of support,” Majd’s neighbour explains. “No classrooms, no desks, no salaries, no diesel for heating, no books and notebooks.”

A new initiative promises to change this. People in Need and UNICEF—with generous support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic—have just opened a dedicated self-learning centre at Majd’s camp, specifically designed for out-of-school children like him. Basic maths, English and Arabic classes will be offered, under the supervision of trained teachers, and learning materials provided to help students catch up on lost schooling.

News of the new centre is already creating excitement among the families at the camp. “I will let Majd and his sister and brother join,” his mother tells us,“ so that they learn as much as they can.”

As for Majd himself, he is already thinking of the future. “I would like to be a teacher,” he says, smiling.

“Every year we missed classes very often because of the shelling.”

In another camp in Idlib, one of the new self-learning centres is already underway. Eleven-year-old Hasan stands outside it, having just received a new schoolbag and materials for learning. “They are opening a school here,” he tells us proudly, “and I had a test.”

The test is part of a special placement process, designed to assess what level Hasan has reached in his education. This is an essential first step in helping children like him get the right support.

Hasan’s family fled their home last year because of intensive attacks, but his education had already suffered greatly before that. “Once there was an attack very close to the school,” he tells us. “Every year we missed classes very often because of the attacks.”

As a result, Hasan has fallen far behind in his education, along with his brothers and sisters. “I have four children and none of them is going to school,” Hasan’s father, Mohamed, explains. “After we arrived here there was no school in the camp, and they could not travel to the neighbouring village because of the bad road conditions.”

At the self-learning centre, age- and learning-level appropriate materials are provided to each child according to the results of their placement test. Trained staff work with both children and their parents, to encourage them to continue their learning at home using the materials provided.

Hasan is already eager to start catching up with his peers. “I would like to be a school principal in future or a doctor,” he tells us, seriously. “I do not want to spend all my time playing in the camp, like some children like to do.”

“The children did not even know their letters or how to count to 10.”

Ten-year-old Amira had her education interrupted three years ago, when her family had to flee Aleppo city. She has spent two years at the same camp as Hasan, without any opportunity to attend school.

Despite being three kilometres from the nearest village, and without electricity or piped water, their camp is home to almost 1,200 families. “Most children here have been out of school for at least two years because of displacement,” Ghazwan, teacher at the centre tells us. “The majority of the children did not even know their letters or how to count from one to ten.”

In February, Amira’s situation changed. The self-learning centre has allowed her to return to learning—even after being out of school for so long. “My favourite subject is maths,” she tells us. “I love it. My favourite teacher is Ghazwan; he teaches us Arabic and I love his lessons.”

Psychosocial support activities are included in the centre design, to help children like Amira build their resilience after what they have been through. The very act of going to class regularly can help restore a sense of normalcy in what is otherwise a confusing and traumatic time.

According to her teacher, Amira is already flourishing at the new centre. “Despite displacement and losing her older brother in the shelling, she is one of the most hardworking pupils. She is learning well and working hard to develop herself.”

This is an observation echoed by her family. “Amira is very shy,” her mother tells us. “At first, she did not know anything. Now she has learnt how to read, write, count and do mathematical calculations.”

Despite having missed school for so long, Amira—whose name means princess—has high hopes for her future.

“I wish I would be a doctor in future,” she tells us, “so that I can help children and treat them.”

Since 2012, People in Need has been helping to repair and re-open schools and reach vulnerable, out-of-school children in Syria. Our current work on self-learning centres in camps is funded by UNICEF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

Find out more about our work in Syria HERE

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Author: Omar Khattab and Riona Judge McCormack, People in Need