Education in the Second Largest Refugee Camp in the World
Syrian children living in Za'atari, the largest refugee camp in Jordan, struggle to continue their education.
June 20, 2013 by Caroline Schmidt, UNHCR Regional Representation - West Africa
9 minute read
(c) UNICEF/JORDAN2013/Alaa Malhas

UNICEF report highlights Syrian children’s struggles to continue their education

“I have told other girls my age that they should go to school in the camp, otherwise they will lose a year. Some have registered at the school, but they are not going to class anymore. They tell me that they will go back to school when they return to Syria. But I say: What if we stay here for a long time? You would be wasting your life. They can’t answer me. They are not taking my advice.” These are the words of Kholoud*, a 13 year old Syrian girl in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

Last week, UNICEF Jordan published a new report entitled Shattered Lives: Challenges and Priorities for Syrian Refugee Children and Women in Jordan, highlighting the challenges that Syrian children and women face in in Jordan and providing recommendations on how to overcome these. The report provides an insight into the struggles of children trying to continue their education in Za’atari, the largest refugee camp in Jordan. Approximately 120,000 Syrian refugees live in the Za’atari camp, half of them children.  The camp now has grown to be the second largest refugee camp in the world only exceeded in size by the Dadaab camp in Kenya.

Education in Za’atari Camp

In principle, all girls and boys in Za’atari camp have access to school. The Jordanian Ministry of Education and UNICEF provide formal education in two temporary schools with a capacity of 5,000 students each, covering all grades except the final year of secondary school.

In reality, though, 76% of girls and 80% of boys between the age of 6 and 18 years do not attend school. 66% of all children in Za’atari camp lost about three months of schooling already before arriving in Jordan while 23% lost more than a year. Boys have generally been out of school longer than girls. The consequence is significant: only 7% of the children who lost more than a year are currently in school.

Factors that negatively affect the learning environment

As Kholoud said, families expect to return home after just a short time in the camp which might be a disincentive for parents to send their kids to school. However, according to UNICEF’s report the majority of primary and secondary school-aged children say they want to go to school. They say the main reasons for not going to school (or dropping out) are violence and harassment on the way to and from school and between students at school (especially among boys), verbal abuse and corporal punishment in the classroom by Jordanian teachers and Syrian assistant teachers, insecurity about leaving their family even for a few hours, having to help at home or work to earn money, the distance to school and the lack of appropriate toilets. Some children are coming to school hungry, which affects their ability to concentrate. Large class sizes are difficult for teachers to manage and prevent follow-up with individual students when they fall behind. Without access to the internet, Syrian children are unable to do the research required by the Jordanian curriculum.

Situation of teachers

Jordanian teachers have a crucial role to play, though, because the Jordanian curriculum needs to be instructed by Jordanians so that children are eligible to receive certification by the Jordanian Ministry of Education. But teachers also face constraints: Some report that they do not feel safe working in Za’atari camp and that transportation to the camp is costly and difficult. Often they are inexperienced because many of them have only recently graduated. For every two Jordanian teachers, there is approximately one Syrian assistant teacher. Syrian teachers are frustrated that they are only allowed to work as assistants in Za’atari camp given they are fully qualified teachers.

Education in emergencies

It has been recognized internationally that education is a right that must be upheld in emergency situations (Education Cannot Wait: Call to Action). Education can provide stability, normalcy and hope in a child’s day to day life during a crisis situation which can last for months and years. According to UNHCR statistics, at the end of 2012, developing countries hosted some 8.5 million refugees (more than 80 % of the global refugee population). Among the ten major refugee-hosting countries worldwide are Pakistan, Chad, Ethiopia and Kenya –  all of them are developing country partners in the Global Partnership for Education which has as one of its strategic objectives to help fragile and conflict-affected countries to develop education plans and get all children in school.

Integrating conflict risk reduction in education planning

(c) UNICEF/JORDAN2013/Kalpesh Lathigra

(c) UNICEF/JORDAN2013/Kalpesh Lathigra

The conflict in Syria is in its third year. Many Syrian refugee children in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq have already missed out on their education. Providing education for them in a permanent state of emergency is difficult as the UNICEF report shows. It is even more difficult if developing countries which struggle themselves to provide quality education for their children, are suddenly confronted with the need to provide regular schooling for refugee children of other countries.

Therefore, the Global Partnership for Education requests partner countries to design their education sector plan sensitive to their context (PDF). An education sector plan includes an analysis of the vulnerabilities specific to a country such as conflicts, natural disasters or economic crises and it must address preparedness, prevention, and risk mitigation. UNESCO-IIEP together with UNICEF has developed guidelines for integrating conflict and disaster risk reduction into education sector planning on behalf of the Global Education Cluster. Burkina Faso, for example, has used the guidelines for the preparation of their new education sector plan. The Global Partnership provides $102 million for its implementation.

The challenges in Za’atari camp reflect what children in other refugee camps may face worldwide. Syrian and Jordanian children do speak the same language and refugee children can pick up on the Jordanian curriculum. But what if this is not a given? War is never the doing of children. Yet, they bear the brunt of the suffering and their entire lives are impacted by it.

*The name of the girl was changed to protect her identity.


By Caroline Schmidt

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Middle East and North Africa: Jordan, Syria

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I would like to work in a refugee comp as an early childhood teacher. helping my little friends. the are the future and the most important because the are tomorrow.

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