Education is the best hope for the future of Syrian children

Photo By: Patricia Mouamar / World Vision

Every number has a name

This week the conflict in Syria will enter its fifth year, and at times the numbers are overwhelming. More than 6.6 million children have been affected. Over 1.6 million have fled Syria, and another 7.6 million are displaced within the country. After working in development for 25 years, I can’t help but think of each of these numbers as a name – a child with hopes and dreams for their future.

One name I think of repeatedly is Ali. Ali, his mother, and two brothers fled the war in Syria and are now taking refuge in Lebanon. At only 14 years old, Ali works three jobs to support his family and has no time for school. “It is simple, if I don’t work, I cannot survive,” he said.

No child should have to choose between education and survival, but Ali is not alone. In the world’s conflict-affected settings, 28.5 million primary school-age children are out of school. Of this figure, 2.8 million children are Syrian.

There are more Syrian children of school-age in Lebanon than there are Lebanese children enrolled in classes, seriously compromising the capacity of the education system to deliver quality education to all children affected by this enduring crisis.

Protecting children through education

Children in fragile and conflict-affected states experience the most extreme inequality and vulnerability. One of the reasons for this is the breakdown of the formal education system, which affects the capacity of the system to respond to and meet the learning needs of such large numbers of children.

Out-of-school children, particularly those displaced by conflict, face extreme protection risks such as increased vulnerability to exploitation and abuse, early marriage, the worst forms of child labour, and recruitment into armed forces and groups. These children may not reach their full potential.

World Vision works to protect children in conflict by providing safe places for them to learn and play, while also working to rebuild and strengthen formal education systems. When children can’t access formal education, World Vision sets up Child-Friendly Spaces – safe places within a disaster-affected community where children can enjoy physical protection and psychosocial support. They help children return to a normal routine by offering structured activities, games and informal education. These spaces provide an important platform to disseminate life-saving messages around health and safety.

So far, World Vision has reached more than 1.8 million people affected by the Syria crisis. Samer, another 14-year-old boy in Lebanon, is also making difficult choices and sacrifices just to get a basic education. He’s walked for miles in the rain to attend remedial classes provided by World Vision. “I know it’s not a school, but I learned so much,” he said, speaking of the classes. “I love learning. I wish I could live in a school.”

We can’t afford to lose a generation of children

A childhood safe from violence is a precondition for healthy, educated and prosperous societies, but Syrian children could become a lost generation.

As leaders discuss the post-2015 sustainable development goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals at the end of this year, the new framework must commit to ending all forms of violence against children, and include targets on increasing their access to quality education and protecting those affected by conflict.

We cannot forget that once the Syria crisis is over, children like Ali and Samer will be the generation to rebuild Syria. Are we providing them with the education they need to become productive adults and active members of society?

Right now the answer is no.

Blog by Linda Hiebert, the senior director, education and life skills at World Vision International. She has over 25 years of experience in international development, including work as program officer, director and vice-president in a number of countries and regions.

**All names have been changed to protect the identities of children.**

Additional Notes

  • According to UNHCR, there are currently more than 3 million Syrians refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, and more than 52 per cent of these Syrian refugees are under the age of 18.
  • UN Economic and Social Council (UNESCO), ‘EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4: Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All’ (2014) available here.
  • UNICEF USA, Syrian Children Under Seige, and see generally Overseas Development Institute Report: Living on hope, hoping for education, available here.