FAIRFIELD, Conn. (July 28, 2017) — Five years ago today, Za’atari camp opened in the north of Jordan to deal with the sudden influx of refugees fleeing conflict and brutality inside Syria.
For tens of thousands of children, the move marked not only the loss of their homeland, but also the loss of education and opportunity, mirrored by a slide into child labor or early marriage as communities struggled to cope.
Teenagers, pressured to work to relieve financial burdens facing their families, and unable to catch up the years of schooling they have missed, remain the worst affected despite recent attempts to open up access to public schools. Almost 50 percent of Syrian households across Jordan rely in some way on income generated by a child.
Ali*, 14, is the eldest boy of five siblings living with his mother in Za’atari. Since his father left, Ali* and his mother have worked to support the family. He goes to work at 4:00 a.m. every day, picking fruit in nearby fields and finds it hard to stay in school.
"I have to work. I am the only one," Ali* said. "If there were somebody else, I would have stayed at school. When I go to school, I don’t understand a thing. If I ask my friend to help me the teacher would hit us. That’s why I have decided to stop going to school. The kids that are able to understand school, they should stay at school. Those who don’t understand they have no future."
Commenting on the five-year mark of the Zaatari camp, Save the Children Ambassador Cristiano Ronaldo said: "This year, Cristiano, Jr. completed grade one. I saw how much he learned. Then I thought of all the refugee kids who missed school this year. Some have missed years. School trains you for life, and the longer you are out of training, the harder it is to get back in the game. All refugee children have the potential for greatness, and to get there, they need to be in school."
"The impact on the availability of quality education has been felt by Syrian and Jordanian families alike, said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. "The Jordanian government has made huge commitments to give all school children the chance of an education, but this is just half the battle. Children have missed a significant part of their formative education and need additional support if they are going to catch up."
Last year, the Jordanian government pledged to get all out-of-school children into classrooms by September 2017. It created 75,000 places and removed restrictions that prevented children who had missed more than three years of school from returning. It also gave Syrian families the right to work in limited industries in order to ease families’ reliance on child labor.
Despite this, many children, especially teenagers, continue to miss out. During the 2016-17 school year, an additional 24,542 Syrian children were enrolled in formal education, less than half of the 50,000 newly allocated public school places. Those who have gone back school, say they are struggling to catch up, with lessons crammed into three teaching hours per day, and classes of mixed ages and abilities.
Save the Children provides learning support for 200,000 children across the country, aimed at helping children prepare for and access formal education. This summer, Save the Children will also take up the ‘Back to School’ campaign, run in coordination with UNICEF, aiming to identify out-of-school children, including those who have been out of school for several years, and get them back to the classroom.
"The Jordanian government has kept its promise to create school places for children but it is not enough just to have a space at a desk. Teachers need to have adequate training while external obstacles like child labor, early marriage and fear of harassment need to be addressed in coordination," said Miles.
"The international community must keep its promise to support countries like Jordan, so that children can not only stay in school, but also have a real chance to learn whilst they are there. These are children who will rebuild Syria when the war is over – we need to invest in them and their right to education."
Save the Children is calling for the international community to renew the commitments made at the London and Brussels conferences and support countries in the region with finance and resources to get children back to school.
*Name changed for protection.
Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.