Jana al-Issa | Lujain Mourad | Hussam al-Mahmoud
The month of September is the month of the annual burden that the Syrians are accustomed to every year, which differs from the rest of the months, as it is burdened with inevitable concerns, the most important of which are the expenses of returning to school, winter supplies and heating fuel.
Such pressures may push residents on all Syrian lands to choose between life necessities in favor of the “most important” ones for the family.
Although the early stages of education in Syria are free, many Syrian families still consider the return of children to school an “extra concern” given the currently collapsed living conditions due to the families’ inability to bear any amounts above the daily expenses of food or basic staples, which they can hardly secure.
In this file, Enab Baladi reviews the conditions and solutions for students returning to school in all Syrian governorates during the current year in light of a deteriorating economic reality.
Enab Baladi also discusses with experts and specialists the reasons for the inability to support parents to relieve the pressure associated with returning to school amid a hike in the dropout rate of children from schools year after year and the ensuing social effects that cast a shadow on the future of children and society as a whole.
Across areas of control, an “unfavorable” school return
As with various aspects of life, the educational process in Syria has been affected by the changes imposed by the conditions of about 12 years of war, which kept many students away from school while putting others and their families under the weight of dilapidated economic conditions, between low wages and high prices, and an unbridgeable gap between the two cases.
Although the military variables imposed their map on the ground, dividing the country into different areas of control and administration, what unites these areas, regardless of the controlling party, is the difficulty of securing life’s needs and priorities in the face of the absence of a return and income matching the requirements, especially in the face of seasonal occasions, such as returning to the school season.
Ahmed Khalaf, of Talbiseh city in central Homs governorate, told Enab Baladi that the costs needed for his three students in the secondary and preparatory stages is about half a million Syrian pounds (about 113 USD).
At the beginning of the school year, each student needs up to 150,000 SYP (about 34 USD). The school uniforms cost about 75,000 SYP (about 17 USD), in addition to a similar amount to buy school supplies, such as school bags, pens, and notebooks, he added.
Khalaf’s family resides in a house that is relatively far from the school, which means about 2,000 SYP per day for transporting one student to his/her school by contracting with a mini-bus that transports students, especially in the winter, when movement becomes very difficult.
Regarding the alternatives or solutions that Khalaf uses to secure these expenses, he indicated the absence of any fixed base or ready recipe to deal with such circumstances.
Last year, the children’s uncle sent an amount to secure their educational needs, while the family may have to sell two gas cylinders to secure the children’s needs, Khalaf told Enab Baladi.
Hani, 42, a farmer from southern Tafas town, spoke to Enab Baladi about the reality of returning to school and the burdens left by the process, as he is a father of six children, four of whom are in school.
Hani stressed that preparing his children and securing their needs in the regime-held areas requires an expensive and difficult budget for the family, but at the same time, he is forced to bear these expenses, as they are related to the future of his children, which drives him to borrow in order to secure school supplies such as clothes, stationery, and books.
Hani, who does not have a stable source of income, stresses that the burden of school opening is renewed annually, but the costs this year have increased due to the high rise in the prices of clothing and stationery. The complete set of books for a secondary school student is priced at no less than 50,000 SYP (about 12 USD), which means that preparing a student in secondary education requires about 300,000 SYP (68 USD), including the costs of a school uniform, a bag, shoes, and stationery, in addition to the daily expenses. Also, a coat for girls costs no less than 100,000 SYP (23 USD) today.
Umm Omar, of Tal Shihab town in Daraa governorate, agrees with Hani’s remarks on high prices and the difficulty of keeping pace with them.
The mother of two told Enab Baladi that equipping her children, one in secondary school and the other in elementary school, requires about 800,000 SYP (180 USD), which she secures through her daily agricultural work as a laborer with a daily wage of 10,000 SYP (2.5 USD).
Umm Omar’s pursuit to secure her children’s needs is accompanied by the preparation of winter food supplies and heating fuel, Which doubles the burden of securing needs due to the weak financial resources.
This challenge in dealing with providing requirements of this financial weight on the heads of families is continuously demonstrated by statistics and statements by officials and UN bodies, most notably the report of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, which he presented on 12 December 2021, during which he confirmed that 90 percent of the Syrians live below the poverty line as 60 percent of them suffer from food insecurity.
Outside regime areas, common hardships
People’s economic and living conditions in areas outside the regime-held areas, like areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) or the opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria, are similar to those within its control as a result of high prices, low wages and instability of the currency value, in addition to the absence of fixed income for a large segment of the people, and the lack of support for basic seasonal necessities such as the needs of school students.
Nouri al-Hassan, a daily worker in a food warehouse in the AANES-held al-Hasakah governorate, told Enab Baladi that the burdens of the school year do not stop with securing clothes and stationery, which is a set of pens and notebooks that the student needs during the school year.
“There are also transportation fees from home to school, given the long distance between them, which requires about 45,000 SYP (10 USD) per month, unlike in 2021, before transportation fees nearly doubled,” he said.
Al-Hassan indicated that to deal with financial obligations of this kind, his children are forced to use bags and clothes for years and rely on used clothes, in addition to remittances from family and friends residing outside Syria.
The cost of preparing the student for school at the beginning of the year is not less than 200,000 SYP (45 USD), al-Hassan added.
In the northwestern Idlib region, controlled by the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), Abu Mohammad, who owns a stand for selling socks and accessories, sees that the depreciation of the Turkish lira (the currency used in financial and commercial transactions in the region) and the low income have affected living conditions to a large extent, in addition to stumbled work and high costs.
Abu Mohammad said that each of his two children needs between 200 (11 USD) and 250 (14 USD) Turkish liras to buy a bag and stationery in the absence of a solution that relieves the family of the high costs.
As for the countryside of Aleppo, which the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) controls, the people’s living conditions are not different from other areas.
Amir, an IDP from Eastern Ghouta suburbs, said that the school return expenses are harsh and difficult.
The man, who works on a fuel stand, has two daughters who will enter school this year amid unfavorable circumstances regarding the family’s ability to secure their needs, given other urgent obligations such as house rent, food, and drink.
“God will honor us, and it will be good, God willing,” the displaced man said with a stammer and hesitation, hinting at the absence of solutions that save the family from the burden of imposed expenses due to the opening of schools.
An approximate cost between 500 TL (28 USD) and 800 TL (44 USD) is what Amir estimates as the costs of the two girls’ clothes and stationery.
“This amount does not include the daily expenses and the foods their bags are supposed to contain while going to school,” he added.
Not intended for students’ families
Support and funding in ‘frightening’ decline
Education is often one of the first services to be disrupted in any humanitarian crisis and the last services that can be obtained, leaving long-term effects in various sectors of life.
Regardless of the controlling party in the various Syrian governorates, the educational process depends on cash support and funding, which comes from several sources, most notably international organizations such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) or local organizations concerned with the education sector, in addition to a portion provided by the governments controlling the region (funds varies between one control area and another).
According to special criteria and agendas that depend on their budget and the amount of funding they have and on their belief in the idea of supporting education regardless of the need for it, the governments controlling the three regions determine the value of the material support they spend in the education sector.
However, the support and funding of the controlling parties for the education sector in Syria is generally limited to the sustainability of the educational process at minimum levels, without directing the support to the students’ families in order to alleviate part of their suffering, which is primarily related to the general economic situation in the region.
This support includes, first, employees and teachers’ salaries, providing heating for students during the winter semester, in addition to free printing and distributing books for specific classes (from first grades to secondary education), and school rehabilitation.
UNICEF also supports the education sector by rehabilitating schools, providing prefabricated buildings, distributing educational supplies and textbooks, and developing educational methods.
UNICEF also has supported over the past years, in small parts, a number of Syrian families who have students in schools through cash assistance, to encourage them to commit their children to continue their studies and to ensure that child labor is reduced because economic problems are the most prominent suffering of these families.
What is the support core of the education sector?
International or governmental support for the education sector is often directed in large proportions to support schools and educational staff and not to students and parents, according to economic researcher Mohammad al-Abdullah.
Al-Abdullah told Enab Baladi that the concern for children to return to school throughout the Syrian geography is mainly related to the living and economic situation of the people, not to the amount of support provided to the education sector as a whole.
The very large economic burden pushes many families to enroll their children in labor at an early age to support the family economically due to their inability to bear school fees.
The head of the family is unable to cover the expenses of a family of four, for example, and the school expenses are considered beyond their ability to bear, according to al-Abdullah.
The researcher added that international support for individuals and families in the context of the educational process may be limited to some individual cases whose percentage is negligible, with the aim of preventing the child from dropping out of school.
Education sector funds in a frightening decline
The support required to finance the education sector in Syria is 351.4 million US dollars, while the amount of funding has so far reached only 9.8 million US dollars, with a coverage rate of only 2.8 percent of the required amount, according to UN figures on response plans for Syria this year.
In 2021, the amount required to finance the educational sector in Syria was 299 million US dollars, of which only 22 percent was covered, and in 2020, the required amount was 264.4 million US dollars, of which about 36.5 percent was covered.
The figures show a clear decrease and a decline in the coverage of the amount allocated to finance the education sector, which al-Abdullah considered a dangerous indicator because the decline is linked to support at the international level.
According to the figures indicated by the economic researcher, the decline in funding may be related to the decrease in humanitarian funding at the level of the Syrian file in general and not in the education sector in particular.
In light of several crises that all Syrian governorates suffer from, the decline in international funding for the education sector comes to “severe” levels amid the complete inability of the controlling parties to find solutions to them, even at minimal levels, given the decline in their financial resources and their heavy reliance on international organizations in many sectors.
The decline in support coincides with the deteriorating living conditions of employees, including educational cadres, as their monthly salaries drop to very low rates and many work without salaries for months.
Dropping out, severe consequences
A large number of Syrian children do not obtain their right to education as a result of the deteriorating living conditions on the one hand, and the need for more than one family member to work to cover the basic needs of the family, or the family’s inability to pay the expenses of enrolling their child in school on the other hand.
According to a report issued by UNICEF on 10 May, about 2.4 million children have been forced out of school throughout Syria, in addition to 1.6 million children who are at risk of dropping out.
An opinion poll conducted by Enab Baladi in all Syrian regions showed that the main factor for the increasing number of dropouts is the financial burden posed by preparing to return to school despite the different dropout rates in all regions.
According to information obtained by Enab Baladi through its interviews, families suffer from a large gap between their monthly income and the cost of returning to school.
Economic researcher Mohammad al-Abdullah says that the living situation of the population in the three regions is the main reason why children drop out of school.
Al-Abdullah added to Enab Baladi that parents bear heavy burdens to secure the cost of the children’s return to school, considering that the gap between the parents’ monthly income and the cost of living is also large.
The education science specialist, Hassan Hussein, told Enab Baladi that the economic situation in Syria was reflected in the schools’ ability to develop educational methods and provide the requirements of students and teachers, in addition to the weakness of educational facilities, which limited children’s desire to go to school.
Marriage or work
Hala Haj Ali, a social researcher who studies the education sector in Syria, points to another negative impact on students dropping out of school, as the difficult living conditions and the inability of families to secure school supplies force many students to work under the permissible age according to international standards. It also forces many female students to marry.
The researcher added to Enab Baladi that many families in different regions were forced to marry off their daughters to reduce the financial burden, stressing that the current economic conditions put students at risk of child labor and girls at risk of underage marriage.
Khadija, 44, from the central province of Homs, told Enab Baladi that her child’s dropping out of education was due to the breadwinner’s absence, which forced her to send him to work in agriculture.
Despite her child’s desire to return to school, he is hindered by the responsibility he assumes to support his mother and two sisters, who are continuing their education, Khadija added.
Meanwhile, Obaid al-Hussein, 45, from the countryside of the city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, suffers from the high cost of private schools at a time when public schools are absent from his area of residence.
Al-Hussein complained to Enab Baladi about his inability to secure transportation costs or school equipment to send his two children to a school outside the village.
He also had to send his son to work selling bread to help him secure the house rent, which amounts to 200,000 SYP per month (45 USD), while al-Hussein’s income is about 350,000 per month (78 USD).
The situation is not different in opposition-controlled areas.
Ghannam Mahmoud al-Nar, 47, a father of three, was forced to refrain from sending his children to school due to his inability to secure the cost of school supplies, which he estimated at around 700 Turkish liras (about 38 USD), while al-Nar’s monthly income is about 100 USD.
Lack of stability
The repeated displacement created a state of instability and the inability of the parents to give their children the opportunity to access education during the past ten years, as the lack of stability included many areas of Syria, whose infrastructure was destroyed and the educational process stopped as a result of the conflict.
All of these circumstances played a prominent role in the children dropping out of school, according to the educational specialist Hassan Hussein.
The successive displacement movements over the past years have deprived thousands of children of their right to education and prompted families to refrain from sending their children to school until their conditions stabilize, in light of the repeated displacement, Hussein asserts.
Hundreds of schools were closed in the areas that were bombed and turned into an unsafe and unstable environment, according to the researcher.
This is confirmed by the situation in northwestern Syria, which witnessed the largest number of leakages, UNICEF reported on 10 May.
According to the report, northwestern Syria witnessed at least 13 cases of attacks on schools during 2021, coinciding with the lack of security and stability and the absence of educational facilities in the region.
The UNICEF report spoke of the interruption of one million children from education, out of 1,700,000 children residing in the region, as a result of these conditions.
According to researcher Hala Haj Ali, the state of instability and decentralization in the education sector, witnessed by most regions, has affected school dropouts, hampering the development of the educational process and scattering support for the sector.
Disruption of education
The Syrian conflict forced most children to drop out of education, for equal periods and for many reasons, most notably the lack of safety and stability.
Many children who drop out of school suffer from educational problems and the existence of a gap between them and their peers, which creates a state of rejection among the dropouts upon returning to school, according to educator Hassan Hussein.
Haj Ali considered that the child dropping out of school as a result of his absence from education is linked to two main factors, the first of which is the age at which he dropped out of education and the age at which he was able to return to school.
“A child who drops out of education at a young age, and tries to return at adolescence, suffers from many problems, the most important of which are the differences in physical development between him and his classmates,” the researcher said.
It also depends on the number of years of interruption, which controls the size of the knowledge gap between children and their peers, Haj Ali added.
Social and psychological factors
The impact of the war in the last decade was largely reflected in the children’s ability and desire to continue their education in light of the suffering of many of them, which resulted in many psychological diseases that the circumstances did not allow them to treat.
The educational expert, Hassan Hussein, said that students who suffer psychological trauma need unconventional methods of dealing, explaining that the method of education that children need in the context of wars is education based on psychosocial support so that children accept the educational process.
One of the obstacles that impede the educational process and contribute to school dropout is the parents’ fears of the social problems resulting from their children receiving educational curricula that contradict society’s standards and ideas, such as the situation embodied in the relationship between the education sector and society in the areas of northeastern Syria, as many residents of the region decided not to send their children to school for fear of the curricula of the Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria.
According to a study by the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, the Autonomous Administration has imposed its policy through these curricula that were prepared based on the “philosophy” of Abdullah Öcalan, as a spiritual leader of the Kurdish people. These curricula were rejected by a large segment of Arabs, Kurds, and other society components, because of their fear for their children’s future.
Consequences of school dropout affect Syria’s future and children
The impact of school dropout does not only affect children in the present and the future but, at the same time, has a disastrous impact on the future of the whole of Syria.
According to what the educator Hassan Hussein said, the stability of the country, especially after wars, is linked to the level of education and the number of learners, considering that creating an educated generation that is aware of itself, its relations, and responsibilities towards the country has the greatest impact on education.
In the absence of education, child labor, ignorance, and lack of responsibility are widespread, and this is what makes the wheel of development move in the opposite way, according to Hussein.
He added that the impact of school dropout may turn into psychological and behavioral problems, such as the high crime rate.
According to Haj Ali, the role of the school is not limited to education but rather plays social and psychological roles.
The child who has dropped out of school often deals with older age groups and with a different moral standard, which makes him vulnerable to other problems, such as delinquency, behavioral problems, and adopting extremist ideas.
The dropout is linked to the economic situation, as the lower the level of education, the lower the economic development and the greater the poverty and misery.
Limited solutions against school dropout
The available solutions are very limited to improve the educational reality in Syria and reduce dropouts in light of the deteriorating economic reality and the continuation of the conflict, as confirmed by a UNICEF report in May 2022.
UNICEF says that at the current funding rate, it will take about 30 years for the organization and its partners in the education sector to rehabilitate all damaged and destroyed schools, to compensate children who have dropped out of school.
In 2022, 11 years into the Syria crisis, the conflict’s impact on children is abundantly clear: 2.4 million children have been forced out of school, UNICEF said.
Education specialist Hassan Hussein says that one of the most prominent solutions available is educating children and parents about the importance of education, as well as educating teachers on ways to deal with students in light of the spread of psychological trauma.
He added that it is necessary to have a psychosocial supporter in all schools and to abolish negative punishment in them.
Governments must also distribute resources equitably, allocate a good share of them to the education sector, as well as put in place strict laws that prevent children from dropping out.
Providing professional support within schools contributes to reducing dropouts and child labor, according to Hussein.
Hussein believes that it is necessary to focus on “accelerated education” to help children who drop out and fall behind in school.
|Accelerated Education: It is a flexible program suitable for different age groups, implemented in an intensive time frame, and aims to provide educational opportunities for adolescents and children deprived of education who are over school age. This program includes students who have dropped out of school and those whose education has been interrupted due to poverty, marginalization, wars, and crises.|
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