4 min read  | Culture & Society, Interviews

Questscope Director: ‘We’re talking about an entire generation without educational access’


October 20, 2013

Muthanna-Khreisat 2

October 20, 2013

In 2004, Jordanian-based NGO Questscope began an informal education program with the Jordanian Ministry of Education to provide teenagers who had dropped out of Jordan’s education system the Jordanian equivalent of an American GED. In between 40 and 50 centers around Jordan, their Non-Formal Education Program engages youth ineligible to reenter the formal education system with 16 to 24 months of participatory-style education.

Since March 2011, more than 270,000 Syrian refugee children have entered Jordan. A UNICEF spokesperson said Sunday 42,000 of them are enrolled in school, either in sprawling Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan or in overcrowded Jordanian public schools.

Questscope has begun a mentorship program in Zaatari Camp in response to the crisis and expanded its informal education programs to Syrian teenagers, integrating them with the Jordanians they serve.

Syria Direct’s Elizabeth Parker-Magyar spoke with Questscope’s Jordan Country Director, Muthanna Khreisat, about the challenges for Syrians inside and outside Zaatari and the necessity of incorporating informal education in the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.

As the Syrian population in Jordan has exploded, what has the humanitarian response been in the education sector?

There is no way for all students who are eligible to go to school to enter the formal education system. When this crisis ends, you must have educated Syrians who can go back and rebuild Syria. We are talking about an entire generation without access to education.

How do challenges differ for humanitarian organizations inside and outside Zaatari camp?

If I am a Syrian in Zaatari, there is protection, access to services, food, items that I need and access to education. That is much better than being a Syrian in the host community, where I am not allowed to work, where not all services are provided and where there is tension between the Syrian and Jordanian communities. I think the situation inside Zaatari is much better. Both are bad – but by comparison, Zaatari is much better.

Why, then, do individuals choose to leave Zaatari?

Some people who live in Zaatari think that if they leave their lives will be better. But, in the host communities, Syrians are not legally allowed to work, and they have to pay rent. Some NGOs will pay their rent for 2,3 or 4 months, but the crisis begins after that.

In the host community, there are not enough places in the schools. You cannot just enroll kids in schools outside the camp.

Sometimes, people leave because they have relatives outside of the camp that they think they can rely on. Some people work illegally for the income.

I recently visited an overcrowded school in Zaatari village that is turning Syrian students away daily. Is there a solution to this overcrowding?

Today, there are 350,000 Syrian students eligible to go to school. Currently, they say 70,000 are registered for school, with schools turning to evening classes, double shifts. We’ve already exceeded school’s maximum capacities. Let’s say, even, we can accept 100,000. What will we do with the 250,000 students left?

We have to start thinking of informal education. The problem is that the government and UNICEF have until now believed that formal education is the only solution. At the very least, we need to try to keep them in a safe educational environment for 6 months, before referring them to a formal educational path. Those kids need to be in a safe environment, not on the street.

If they spend their time in their houses, it’s an even worse problem. They spend time watching news and on YouTube, watching videos of the war in Syria.

How are relationships between host communities and Syrians? When schools go double shift, is that an admission that it is better to keep the communities separate?

Tensions arise because marginalized Jordanians view marginalized Syrians arriving and receiving services that they themselves cannot access. At the same time, Syrian workers are replacing Jordanian workers in huge numbers, because they will take lower wages and do not take benefits.

Also, because NGOs will pay Syrian’s rents, rent prices have increased greatly in those communities. This all affects Jordanians.

Part of what we do is accept 20 to 40% Jordanians and 60 to 80% Syrians. We engage kids together and do monthly family activities that bringing groups together. It’s been an achievement. Tension between parents are often diffused when they see their kids playing together. 

Photo courtesy of Questscope.

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