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New decision to expel students allegedly supporting al-Assad regime in Azaz city sparks controversy

Syrian students at northern Aleppo countryside's schools - 13 June 2019 (Enab Baladi)

Syrian students at northern Aleppo countryside's schools - 13 June 2019 (Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Abdullah al-Khatib

The local council of Azaz city in the northern countryside of Aleppo has released a decision to expel anyone in the educational complexes offending the “Syrian revolution,” “revolutionaries,” or their principles, or any person proved to be a loyalist to the Syrian regime.

The council began implementing the expulsion decision in the past few days, which included every student, teacher, or working individual in the education directorate.

The decision was deemed to include students of the basic education’s first cycle (from the first to the fifth grade) and the second cycle (from the sixth to the ninth grade), as well as the nursery students. In other words, the decision included all students between the ages of four to 14 years.

The decision issued by the local council and circulated on 19 March of this year to all schools, institutes, and nurseries, was approved by the director of the education directorate in Azaz city, Mohammad Hourani, according to what he confirmed to Enab Baladi.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Hourani confirmed that the administration represented by himself is fully informed of the expulsion decision and the reasons behind it.

On the other hand, Enab Baladi attempted to monitor the basis of the decision through its correspondent in the area, which revealed that the expulsion decision is linked to two seventh-grade female students of 13 years.

Seventh-grade students trigger the expulsion decision

Yara, a seventh-grade student at one of Azaz city schools, recounted to Enab Baladi how the problematic issue had started; however, she and her parents refrained from revealing Yara’s full name or her school’s name for security reasons.

According to Yara, the decision was circulated after two students drew the Syrian regime’s flag on their hands at her school. Then, the teacher saw what they were doing and asked them if they were loyal to Bashar al-Assad. After she verified the matter, as per Yara’s expression, the two students were expelled from the school.

One day after the expulsion incident, the two students accompanied by their parents returned to school in an attempt to settle their situation; however, the school principal refused and referred the case to the education directorate in Azaz city. She also hanged their expulsion decision on the school’s wall.

Meanwhile, Hourani confirmed to Enab Baladi that no student has been expelled until the date of making this report. He said in cases like this, and schools offer their “advice and guidance.”

He clarified that “the two students were suspended for one week only, then transferred to another school.”

Huda al-Abssi, the minister of education in the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), confirmed to Enab Baladi that the ministry supports the measure taken by the education directorate of Azaz city, considering it a “right decision.” She added, “those who want to support the regime must follow it, for there is no place for al-Assad’s gangs among us.”

When asked whether they had a plan to circulate the expulsion decision to all directorates of the SIG, Abssi replied that it is a “certain and inevitable move.”

Abssi revealed to Enab Baladi that the decision to expel al-Assad supporters from schools in the Syrian north—whether they were from the administrative and educational staff or simply students, is currently under study and will be announced soon.

According to Abssi, the expulsion decision was circulated at Idlib University before she assumed a ministerial office. She then added, “unfortunately, I was surprised that such a decision had not yet been issued at schools.”

Monitoring and inspection body to verify children’s loyalty!

As for Hourani, he said there must be an educational office for the city’s local council, monitoring, and inspection body, as well as directors and administrators in each school, in order to investigate and verify such cases.

Nevertheless, Sarah al-Amin, a school teacher for students in the first cycle of basic education in Azaz city, mentioned nothing about the monitoring and inspection body to Enab Baladi, but instead called on the education directorate in Azaz to check any news regarding any child, student, or working person in the educational field showing support to the Syrian regime,” by communicating with their friends, teachers, and parents.”

Between supporters and opponents to the expulsion decision… Why should children bear the guilt?!

Although the minister of education at the SIG, Abssi, supports the expulsion decision of al-Assad’s supporters, she refuses to include children as in the case of Azaz city, for in her opinion, “children are our responsibility.”

She added that the decision issued by Azaz’s directorate of education is meant for parents and teachers, and not for nursery students, as she believes that the SIG- run areas do not have children supporting the al-Assad regime.

Al-Amin, on the other hand, confirmed to Enab Baladi that she agrees on taking particular measures toward students supporting al-Assad, but she disapproves of the school expulsion.

She pointed out that the expulsion decision is not the optimal choice, and it is better to summon students’ parents to discuss the matter with them, for students are still at a young age where they become influenced by the opinions and actions of their families at home.

As for the fact that the decision includes children in nursery and kindergarten, al-Amin said, “those children should not be burdened with blame or guilt, for the primary and last responsibility lies with the parents and their ways of upbringing their children at home.”

Fatima Ibrahim, a middle school teacher in Azaz city, categorically rejected the expulsion decision as she said to Enab Baladi that “it is a crime to hold middle school students accountable for such an unjust decision and deprive them of their right of education.” As for nursery children (kindergarten), they cannot definitely be held accountable for their actions with any words.

Ibrahim added that the students’ parents are responsible for instilling the revolution’s love and principles in them. From the point of view of Ibrahim, punishment cannot be an alternative, but instead, parents should hear their children, talk to them, raise their awareness, and try to correct their misconceptions.

The teacher asserted that expelling this category of children from school does not mean getting rid of the problem in society. She added it is necessary to focus on them in order to win their favor, thus preventing future new enemies of the revolution. Ibrahim concluded by saying that if a teacher is not able to influence children’s ideas, then this is the definition of “educational failure,” as per her expression.

Will the expulsion decision affect educational autonomy?

Azzam Khanji, chairperson of “Midad Education Without Borders Organization,” gave his opinion about the expulsion decision by saying that the revolution’s fundamental aim was to preserve individuals’ dignity and their right to express their opinions freely, as well as hold perpetrators accountable for their “crimes,” rather than for what they say or believe.

At the same time, Khanji pointed out that he supports educational autonomy, which allows education to transfer science and knowledge to society, builds individuals’ skills, promotes noble ideals and values, and maintains the authentic identity of the homeland country.

Khanji stressed the importance of educational autonomy as a means to prevent some people from misusing education to introduce subversive ideas of extremism and delinquency. He added, “We always call for the verification of what is said or reported, never passing judgments, and thrive on applying the law.”

What is the solution?

Teachers must go through rehabilitation programs to be equipped on the educational and scientific levels to be good role models for children and the next generation, for a teacher of no competency does more harm than good to this noble profession, as per his expression.

Khanji also believes that society needs to work together to put education at the top of the priorities and that the intellectual elite of the society is the one who should work in the education field.

He also shared the same opinion of the teachers met by Enab Baladi in this report, that children or students must be adequately educated to win their favor instead of punishing or eliminating them. Khanji elaborated by saying teachers must influence them positively, and install valuable intellectual ideas within them.

 

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