Mohammed teaches Syrian children in a refugee camp in Jordan.

Syrian refugees make the best of temporary schools

Mohammed, a teacher from Syria who lives in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, is the fourth participant in our 10-week #TeacherTuesday campaign. His daily struggle to help Syrian refugee children underlines the need to support teachers in difficult situations – and to make education a more central part of humanitarian efforts in conflict zones.

Photo_Mohammed_in_school1Mohammed arrived eight months ago in Zaatari, which has become the world’s second-largest refugee complex as more and more Syrians flee the civil war. “I was teaching in my school until it was completely destroyed, then I moved to another school. Once all schools in the area had been completely destroyed, then I left and came to Zaatari.”

Four months ago he got a job teaching. “Save the Children had a recruitment for schools and I applied for the job. They hired me because of my experience and because I have a university degree and have been teaching for 12 years.”

“My school is primary and secondary combined. Girls in the morning, boys in the afternoon. There are 800 students in primary and 400 students in secondary school.

“There are 25 to 40 in each class at my school, school 2. In school 1, there are from 80 to 120 in classes because it’s in one of the most densely populated areas of the camp. Zaatari is a massive, massive place. It takes a couple of hours to walk across the camp.”

“Our main problems are the shortage of text books, we need boards and markers,” Mohammed says, adding, “The school doesn’t look like a school. I want a yard where children can play. We want our school to look like other schools.”

Despite the difficulties, Mohammed says the majority of children in the camp are in school. “There are 50,000 children in the camp in total. Half of them are school-aged children and 20,000 are currently registered with a school. Some have missed up to three school years. It’s important they are enrolled into school.”

Globally, as we outlined in a policy paper last year, many children in or from countries affected by conflict don’t have a chance to go to school. Around half the world’s out-of-school population lives in conflict-affected countries, up from 42% in 2008.

The education systems of many countries embroiled in conflict are overlooked in the international aid structure, receiving neither long-term development assistance nor short-term humanitarian aid. The global education community has been calling for 4% of humanitarian aid to be allocated to education. Yet as we showed in the 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report, the share of humanitarian aid for education has declined. In 2012, education accounted for just 1.4% of humanitarian aid, down from 2.2% in 2009.

Although you could hardly say Mohammed and the children he teaches are lucky, they have at least been able to receive help from United Nations agencies such as UNICEF and NGOs like Save the Children, which detailed the effects of the Syrian war in a report this year, A Devastating Toll: The impact of three years of war on the health of Syria’s children.

“We have received training how to teach the Jordanian curriculum,” Mohammed says. “UNICEF also gave us a course on how to be a good teacher. They are training other teachers at the end of March. It’s a good course.”

Save the Children also helps children who have been traumatized by their experiences. “We have many aggressive students because of the situations they faced during the crisis and supporting children in the camp with psychosocial support is important,” Mohammed says.

“Save the Children have their own caravan with some toys and they do some activities with the children to relieve the tension that they have. They give psychosocial support. We identify children who need support and direct them to the centres. There are over 60 centres in the camp.”

Mohammed say schools in Syria are being deliberately attacked and used as bases by fighting forces. In the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, we drew attention to attacks on schools and the need to heighten human rights protection for education.

The United Nations Security Council subsequently put its weight behind one of the major recommendations of the report, when it unanimously adopted Resolution 1998 in July 2011. The resolution recognizes attacks on schools as grave violations of human rights, adding them to the crimes for which government forces and armed militias can be named in the UN secretary-general’s annual report on children and armed conflict.

“Some of the children are still scared of school because they saw their schools being destroyed because of bombing and think the schools here are like those in Syria,” Mohammed says. “Some of the schools were occupied by some of the fighting groups.”

“My school was attacked at night so neither the students nor teachers were there. They bombed the whole village that time and they destroyed the school because it was in the area.”

Mohammed underlines the need for humanitarian aid to focus more on education. “I wish that people keep supporting us here in the camp. The support by organisations like UNICEF and Save the Children in the camp is going very well but we still need more support. I hope we get back to Syria and if it lasts longer than I expect, I hope the standard of the school gets better here so that it’s good for our children.

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