March 9 ,2013
By Nuha Shabaan
UNICEF issued preliminary data from its’ survey of Syria’s schools Wednesday finding that “violence is threatening the education of hundreds of thousands of children”.
The report documents extensive harm to the country’s educational infrastructure with at least one out of every five-school buildings damaged by warfare or being used as shelters by the internally displaced.
The reality of education and the situation of the country’s children are likely worse than the UN agency’s report indicates.
Opposition media outlets describe the situation as more dire than UNICEF's statistics, with higher numbers for closed schools and lower attendance figures.
On January 29, 2013, two months before UNICEF press release was published, SANA al-Thawra, a pro revolution news website, estimated that 78 schools in Damascus had ceased function due to damage from fighting and the government's re-purposing of schools into detention centers and security posts. UNICEF reports that 20 per-cent of the capital's school's have been impacted by the fighting.
“Some schools are used as refugee shelters. I don’t know a lot about the schools used by shabiha, but they usually occupy the ones near the hot spots,” said Abeer, a former teacher who was arrested twice and then fired for helping the displaced families.
"Many Damascene students have applied to transfer for traveling. A portion of students no longer attend because their parents fear for their safety,” she added.
According to UNICEF, eighty-five percent of the capital's pre-college student population is still attending school.
“Education is in very bad shape. Hundreds of thousands of students have left their schools. Even the key cities are no longer safe for them,” said Mr Kamal, a 45-year-old from al-Qamishli.
Now jobless, Kamali had taught a school near Aleppo, but was forced to return to al-Qamishli after regime forces shelled Syria’s most populous city.
“Thousands of educators have been killed or imprisoned. Higher education is not in a better shape because the peaceful protests began at universities, so tens of thousands of students have been killed. Universities have been turned into shabiha barracks.”
UNICEF’s report counted three hundred destroyed schools in Aleppo and estimates primary and secondary attendance rates in the city to be as low as 6 per cent.
“I think the real number is much bigger, said Kamali. “Parents don’t send their children to school because of violence and chaos. Schools have become a target for regime bombardment. The number should be bigger than three hundred. Schools that still function are very few and we can say education in Aleppo almost doesn’t exist.”
As a father of four children, Kamali balances the imperative to protect his offspring with their need to learn.
“All parents want to provide all our children’s needs. Education, however, will not be a priority when you have to risk your children’s safety just by you sending them to school,” he said.
UNICEF findings for Idlib province to Aleppo’s south, are especially grim -with its’ survey counting 772 destroyed or damaged educational facilities, about 50 per cent of the total number of schools in the area.
“Education almost doesn’t exist in Idlib, except in some villages which relatively don’t suffer much bombardment.” said Waseem al-Khalaf, a 25-year-old Economics graduate now volunteers with teachers in the city.
“We need quick solutions for this problem and we can’t do that without ending the violence,” he added.
UNICEF funds more than 170 school clubs throughout Syria. The clubs serve some 40,000 children with remedial education and recreational activities. The agency also supplies teaching and learning materials and is rehabilitating some damaged schools.
UNICEF reports required funding of US$20 million for its education programs in Syria during the first half of this year. To date, the organization has received no more than $3 million.