Mohammed received the news as he was about to take the final exam before completing his two-year technical program last month. His high school diploma was voided, he was told, and he needed to retake the final year of his secondary education.
Mohammed is one of nearly 350 students at technical institutes in Syria’s rebel-held north whose high school diplomas were voided last month by the Syrian Interim Government’s Ministry of Education. The reason for the decision given to Mohammed was “incomplete paperwork” for his high school registration three years earlier.
“It’s not a reasonable justification,” Mohammed tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani from the western Idlib city of Jisr a-Shaghour.
The 22-year-old was in his final year of high school in 2012, when clashes erupted in Jisr a-Shaghour between regime and opposition forces, forcing school closures across the area.
The following year he returned to his studies at a high school run by the Free Teachers’ Union, a pro-opposition education organization in Syria’s north. He then enrolled in a technical institute, hoping to score high enough to transfer to one of the newly founded opposition-run universities.
“When we opened the technical institutes, we allowed students to register with high school diplomas certified by the Teachers’ Union for the sake of convenience,” Jamal a-Shahoud, Deputy Minister of Education for the Syrian Interim Government told Syria Direct.
A teacher certification institute in west Idlib. Photo courtesy of the Institute for Preparing Teachers in Bara.
A-Shahoud says that the Ministry of Education planned to verify the diplomas once they received the students’ registration papers and grades from the Teachers’ Union. The information was never sent, he says, and the diplomas of hundreds of students could not be verified.
“We cannot recognize the students’ certificates. Any student can just forge a document and say that he was a student in 2013,” says a-Shahoud. “The work the ministry does would lose all credibility.”
A-Shahoud tells Syria Direct that he sees no other option other than the students retaking their final year.
Mohammed tells Syria Direct that he refuses to retake his final year, having been one exam short of a diploma from the technical institute.
Q: What happened after you graduated?
Before I registered at the institute, I left for Turkey to continue my studies, registering for a seven-month Turkish language course. Of course, I needed a high school diploma to register. The Turkish [institute] accepted it because it was certified by the Teachers’ Union and the Syrian National Coalition.
I worked my way to become the top student in my first year. It was my dream to excel so that I would be able to go to university.
[Ed.: The majority of students affected by the Ministry of Education’s decision have diplomas certified only by the Free Teachers’ Union. However, Mohammed requested additional certification from the Interim Government’s Ministry of Education to ensure that it would accepted by the Turkish technical institute where he planned to study.]
After the training was over, I returned to Syria, where the first technical institutes for teachers were opening in Jisr a-Shughour. Even though I had hoped to enroll in a university, there weren’t any universities open in the opposition-held territories at the time. [But when I returned], the Syrian Interim Government was opening up universities in opposition areas, such as the University of Aleppo and the University of Idlib.
[Ed.: Though students at technical or vocational institutes traditionally work toward a Technical Diploma Certificate or an Associate’s Degree, students who excel at a two-year technical institute can transfer into bachelor’s degree programs at a university.]
My dream was beginning to come true. It pushed me to apply myself in my studies even more than I had before.
I decided to retake the exam for one of my first semester courses during the supplementary summer session so I could earn a higher grade.
It was during the summer session that they told us about the decision [to void our high school diplomas], which came as a huge shock to us.
Q: How many students effectively lost their diplomas?
There were 340 students affected. The explanation provided was that we had not completed the required paperwork, which is not a reasonable justification.
Q: What will you do if the ministry does not resolve the issue? How did you feel after hearing about the decision after having worked so hard to continue your education?
What the ministry is demanding is unacceptable, and I will certainly not waste years to repeat my secondary education after all I’ve been through. It’s incredibly frustrating,
This is all on top of bearing the injustices of the regime. I’m in despair. I am facing this injustice in my own country.
Jamal a-Shahoud, the minister of education for the Syrian Interim Government
When we opened the institute, we allowed students to register with certificates certified by the teachers’ union for the sake of convenience because we knew that all of the institutes would abide by the ministry’s [policies] and have all certificates registered with the ministry from that point on.
In 2015, I was the director of education for Idlib and in a meeting with the ministry I put forth the issue of these certificates because we needed to edit and document them in order for them to be acknowledged by the ministry. Everyone present at the meeting was in agreement.
I informed our brothers who were in the [teachers’] union and the institute that they needed to send student information to the ministry in order to verify the certificates to be recognized. But they did not sending anything, even though we asked for repeatedly for the information, but they did not respond.
We cannot recognize the students’ certificates. We don’t know how many students there are or even their grades. Any student can just forge a document similar to the union’s and say that he was a student in 2013. The work the ministry does would lose all credibility.
This may be unjust for some students, but the responsibility falls on the [teachers’] union, which has not provided us with the student information: enrollment numbers and grades. The union has abandoned these students. We informed the students that they need to complete their secondary education again. We are holding onto the students’ marked in the institutes and universities [for once they complete their secondary studies again].