Hopes And Challenges Engulf New School Year In Raqqa
After years of deprivation, the children of Raqqa are returning to schools with the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, reviving a sector that lost its dynamism just like many other sectors.
The city of Raqqa has lost its distinctive features since ISIS took control of it, imposing its ideas and beliefs by force and turning most schools and educational complexes into its own prisons and strongholds, in addition to the partial or total devastation and destruction of some others, as a result of raids and shelling.
In spite of the surrounding difficulties and the lack of resources, the Education Committee of Raqqa Civil Council, which manages the affairs of the city of Raqqa in coordination with the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Rojava) and the International Coalition, confirms that there is a great turnout and enthusiasm towards registration in schools among students and parents.
Literacy and teacher training courses
With the Education Committee’s announcement of the beginning of the new school year, the number of students in the city of Raqqa and its countryside has reached about 150,000, distributed to 326 schools, asserted the Vice-Chairperson of the Joint Education Committee in Raqqa, Yousef Mohammed, in an interview with Enab Baladi.
Mohammed pointed out that the registration of students is still ongoing so far, which means that these numbers will increase and new schools will be opened in the next few days.
He added that the number of teachers in Raqqa and its countryside exceeded 4,022 this year. They have been trained during summer courses, which also included about 1,250 new teachers, among them 625 teachers with scientific and literary specialties.
To compensate the students for what they missed during the years they were out of schools, they were given three-month summer literacy courses, according to Mohammed, who noted that the courses were supervised by the Education Committee through the Women’s Bureau and the Guidance Office for Public School Administration, along with a number of organizations.
He explained that the number of students who benefited from literacy courses reached about 2,500 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 14.
Regarding the most important challenges facing the educational process in Raqqa and other areas that were under ISIS’s control, Yousef Mohammed considered that they lie in two main aspects: the first is the extent of the destruction that schools were exposed to due to the battles the region had witnessed.
The other aspect is age differences among students, as some of them have been dropping out of school for four or five years. Some of them are ten years old and unable to read and write; thus, requiring extensive efforts from teachers to redress the students’ educational level.
The Children’s Safe Center made efforts to contribute into solving this issue, in addition to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that adopted an educational program which relies on quarterly progress.
The Education Committee also formed other committees that included speakers and representatives from school management and guidance, who worked on probing the information of these students and focusing on them through an intensive program that includes a level of education commensurating with their real age.
Mohammed believes that education highly and positively contributes to rebuilding the personality of children who grew up during ISIS era, witnessing all the killings, destruction and extremist ideas. Education targets the mentality and ideas the organization managed to spread at that period; thus, enforcing the foundations of civilizations in society.
According to Mohammed, the Committee introduced a subject called “Culture and Ethics” to the curriculum this year, which aims to counter the ideas promoted during ISIS’s presence in Raqqa.
Destruction delaying the educational process
ISIS took control of Raqqa between December 2014 and October 2017. SDF managed to regain control over the governorate thanks to the support of the US-led International Coalition.
Raqqa suffered major devastation after five months of continuous bombing by the Coalition during its campaign to expel ISIS, carrying out 6,039 airstrikes between June and November 2017.
The UN estimates that 470,000 people are in need of assistance in the governorate of Raqqa, and 47% of them need it urgently. Also, more than 235,000 children and some 5,000 teachers need educational assistance.
Around 44 % of schools have suffered damage and destruction. Only half of the children aged between 6 to 12 and only 12 % of children between 13 and 17 are receiving education, according to a report issued by the UN’s Reach Initiative in March.
About 88% of schools are suffering from severe shortages of school equipment, and 61% lack educational materials and teachers.