21 October 2014 - Before 2011, when the war began in Syria, basic education was free and more than 90% of primary school-aged children were enrolled in school – one of the highest rates in the Middle East.
With a growing population, Syria had a good basic education system. The government increased expenditure on education by 600% after 2000, and there were 3,384 primary schools in the greater Damascus area – 3,301 public schools, 72 private schools and 11 UNRWA schools. Although they were simple, Syria's public schools had the reputation for having the best teachers.
The impact of war
But three years of brutal conflict in Syria have reversed more than a decade of progress in children’s education. Today 2.2 million of Syria's 4.8 million school age children are not in school as a result of the conflict, and more than half a million Syrian refugee children now living outside of Syria are not in school either.
The collapse of Syria's education system has been most profound in areas hit hardest by violence. In Al Raqqa, Idleb, Aleppo, Deir Azzour, Hama and Daraa less than half of all children today attend school. Idleb and Aleppo have lost a quarter and a sixth of their schools respectively – with attendance plunging below 30 per cent.
Since the war began, more than 4,000 schools across Syria have been destroyed, damaged or turned into shelters for displaced people. The right to a quality education is guaranteed to all children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but Syria's children are not able to enjoy it.
Safety and supplies for learning
Schools should be safe havens, places where children can feel safe from the conflict around them. Yet over the course of the crisis in Syria, school children as young as ten have described being arrested or detained on the way to school, targeted by snipers, or caught in the crossfire between warring parties. Some have seen their schools turned into battle grounds, reduced to rubble, or converted to shelters for the displaced. Some have witnessed horrific scenes of violence and even seen classmates and teachers killed.
In some communities, existing schools cannot accommodate the influx of new students who have been displaced from other parts of the country. Overcrowding and insufficient supplies of books, desks and facilities are now common. In some areas there are not enough teachers, as many have had to leave their communities due to conflict.
Even when schools are open and spots are available, many children do not attend because their families cannot afford school supplies, which have tripled in price since the pre-war period.
SOS for students
SOS Children's Villages Syria has focused on helping schools serving orphaned and displaced children.
Before the new school year started in mid-September, SOS emergency teams distributed 6,600 school bags and stationary to needy children in and around Damascus. During 2013, SOS Children’s Villages donated 16,000 school bags and stationery.
SOS Children's Villages' emergency relief in Syria has also included the delivery food and essential household supplies, potable water, and warm winter coats for children.
Read related news on the crisis in Syria here.