Education in Afrin is at stake… Kurdish students face additional challenges

A school in the city of Afrin in Aleppo countryside - 2018 (Yeni Şafak)

A school in the city of Afrin in Aleppo countryside - 2018 (Yeni Şafak)


Enab Baladi – Ninar Khalifa 

Kurdish students in Afrin schools encounter severe difficulties, which have imposed on students additional efforts to complete their educational journey. Besides, several students are threatened with limited or interrupted formal education and illiteracy.   

Kurdish students in Afrin and its countryside suffer from difficulty understanding the curriculum currently approved by the so-called Syrian Interim Government (SIG), especially those who do not have prior knowledge of the Arabic language because they are accustomed to studying Kurdish, the only language of the curriculum. Adding to that, some parents are still scared to send their children back to school due to the kidnappings and other security challenges the area is experiencing.

Circumstances force students to drop out of school

Jian, a Kurdish girl from the town of Shaykh al-Hadid in the countryside of Afrin, was unable to complete her secondary school education due to the changes taking place in the region’s dominant authorities and the security risks that came with that. 

Jian’s mother told Enab Baladi, “When the area was under the control of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), we were afraid to send our daughter to school to complete her high school education, given that girls were forcibly recruited and taken to fight along with the SDF in the battlefields. However, now we fear for our child’s safety from all the accidents we hear about due to the lack of security. 

She added, “Schools have become teaching only the technical skills of reading and writing, and now because of the coronavirus breakout, even that is no longer available.”

She pointed out that most students did not go this year to schools, which were opened to receive only students of the first and second grades, due to social distancing measures in classes previously suffering from severe overcrowding. For example, there have been about 50 students in a single class following Arab students’ displacement from the rest of the Syrian governorates.

Families in good financial conditions send their children to private learning courses, while the remaining children receive no education.

Since 2014, the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) relied on teaching Kurdish students in their mother tongue in all educational stages and printing special curricula for them. In 2016, the NES decided to close all institutes that teach the Syrian regime’s “Arab” curriculum for middle and high school diplomas students.

Since the Syrian National Army (SNA), a Turkish-backed rebel group, took control of Afrin in 2008, the Kurdish-curricula have been replaced by the SIG-approved curricula. Besides, hours are allocated for teaching the Kurdish language to Kurdish students in addition to Turkish, which has become a basic language from middle school.  

Poor teaching experience

Khalil, a father of two children in the second and third grades of primary schools, spoke to Enab Baladi about the educational problems facing students and families in Afrin.

Khalil complains about the poor quality of teaching because most teachers are new and have started their work after obtaining a high school diploma, while most specialist teachers have moved to Aleppo.

Moreover, there are many students in the classes, but the percentage of Kurdish students is tiny, which caused them some problems. Some Kurdish students are bullied by their classmates, as he put it.

He highlighted that no one can speak about the problems that arise between Arab and Kurdish students, whether with the school administration or any other party.

Thus, parents are forced to send their children to private courses to learn reading and writing skills so that they do not face the risk of illiteracy. It is worth mentioning that the cost of teaching a first-grade primary pupil is about 7,500 Syrian Pounds (SYP- 3.2 USD) per month, and the prices vary according to the teacher, according to Khalil.

Khalil indicated that he registered his two sons in private courses, and only his youngest son has been able to go to school this year because schools have opened their doors to the first and second grades only due to measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, in morning and evening shifts.

Additional difficulties encountered by students and teachers

For his part, Nizar Mustafa, a resident of Afrin and father of school-age children, stressed the difficulties facing students due to the difference in the school curricula’ language. The most affected students are those in middle school and were used to studying all subjects in the Kurdish language, during the control of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) over the region, and they know little of the Arabic language.

Nizar Mustafa told Enab Baladi that the students ’failure to master the Arabic language creates additional difficulties for teachers while explaining lessons to them, especially because many of the teachers do not speak the Kurdish language, and they came from other areas such as Ghouta or Idlib countryside.

On the other hand, the region’s teachers translate the curricula for the Kurdish students to facilitate learning with understanding.

Mustafa indicated that many Kurdish teachers were teaching in Aleppo, by virtue of being affiliated with the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Education, resigned or took unpaid leave, and returned to Afrin to teach in its schools.

He attributed this to the fact that the salaries that teachers receive in Afrin are between 600 and 800 Turkish liras (between almost 75 and 100 USD), while their salaries in public schools in Aleppo are about 60,000 SYP (25.8 USD) after salaries have been increased by 50 percent from previous years.

On the other hand, Mustafa indicated that what is happening in Afrin in terms of kidnappings and the absence of security have forced some female teachers to stop going to their work. He added that much of what is happening on the ground, including the security chaos, is not discussed in the media outlets or social networking sites, and it is covered up, as he put it.

Are there any solutions?

Enab Baladi contacted the SIG-linked ministry of education to talk about the difficulties students face in Afrin, the Kurds in particular, and determine if there are any measures taken to overcome them in the coming days; yet, it did not receive any response to its questions.

Education official in Afrin Local Council, Abdo Nabhan, confirmed in a previous interview with Enab Baladi, in November of 2019, that the number of schools in Afrin is small compared to the huge number of students, which resulted from the widespread sabotage that schools were subjected to during the war. Besides, schools were taken as military headquarters by the factions controlling the city. 

Subsequently, Nabhan explained that most schools follow the second shift system, pointing to another problem: the lack of human resources represented by specialized teachers. Many villages have schools and are fully ready and equipped, but lack educational staff in the village and surroundings.

Nabhan talked about equipping and operating 232 schools in Afrin and its seven districts.

Mustafa Hassan, a teacher in the preparatory stage, also highlighted to Enab Baladi the teachers’suffering, which was entirely unexpected: the schools’ transition from the Kurdish curriculum to the SIG’s curriculum. He explained that most students at all school levels have a great weakness in the Arabic language in which the curriculum is taught now.

Moreover, there are Kurdish and Arab students from all governorates who have studied different curricula in the same class. Yet, teachers are trying, according to Hassan, to reconcile between students and the new curriculum, especially with the large numbers of students in one class.

Nearly 45,000 students received education in the city of Afrin, at all school levels in 2019, according to statistics published by Rudaw Media Network, a broadcast and digital news network based in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Rudaw Media Network indicated that 70 percent of them are Arab students displaced from other Syrian regions, while only 30 percent of students are Kurdish.  

On 20 January 2018, Turkey, with the support of the  SNA factions, launched an attack on the city of Afrin and its countryside, northwest of Aleppo;

Turkey announced its control over Afrin on 18 March of the same year, after the Turkish-backed SNA factions entered the city center and made advances at the Kurdish People’s Protection Units’ expense. This led to the displacement of more than 137,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The Afrin region is divided into seven sub-districts: Afrin, Shaykh al-Hadid,  Maabatli, Sharran, Bulbul, Jenderes, and Rajo. Today, tens of thousands of people live in the Afrin region; most of them are estimated to be from Eastern Ghouta, Homs, and Idlib.


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