Syria Fighting Forces Hundreds of Schools to Close

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (October 6, 2017)— An escalation in fighting has forced hundreds of schools across Syria to suspend classes over the past two weeks, with teachers sending children home in terror as bombs and shells fall nearby.

Vital education and psychological support for tens of thousands of children has been disrupted as a result of what is reported to be the deadliest violence this year. At least three schools have been attacked in the past week, injuring children and destroying classrooms.

Fifty-five of the 60 schools and learning spaces that Save the Children supports in Idlib and rural Aleppo – attended by nearly 20,000 children – have had to shut for days at a time to try and keep children safe, with some now remaining closed for two whole weeks. Many other schools in the region have also had to close temporarily, and other civilian infrastructure such as hospitals bombed and damaged.

Akram*, a principal at a school in Idlib which had to shut down all last week and has previously been bombed twice, said: "There has been heavy shelling for the last 10 days, which has led to most of the schools closing and stopping their classes because of fear. There are air strikes, and the rocket shelling has been very intense and extreme. The planes have been flying overhead continuously, which has led to the children being absolutely terrified – and the families and teachers as well."

Aya*, a counsellor at a primary school in rural Aleppo, said: "The planes have attacked schools. The horrific attacks have impacted the students psychologically. There are cases of extreme panic and fright during class at the time the planes come suddenly – all the students start crying and become scared. They don’t feel safe… they’re extremely upset that they’ve been cut off from their studies. They think if they go to school, they might also lose their lives. If the situation remains like this or gets worse we will soon be seeing cases of depression. We might see illiteracy spreading. It’s going to destroy the students."

In Eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, children and teachers were injured when a school was shelled, and local education authorities had to close all schools in the area. Psychological support sessions for vulnerable children in these schools, supported by Save the Children partners, have been temporarily suspended as a result. Research earlier this year found children in Eastern Ghouta to be in an extremely high state of ‘toxic stress’ – caused by prolonged exposure to war, stress and uncertainty – and urgently in need of mental health care. Such conditions severely affect children’s ability to learn.

"Education in Syria is yet again coming under attack, and it is too dangerous to keep the schools open while bombs are falling all around. Schools close for a few days, then try and reopen, then have to quickly evacuate again," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Director. "The teachers and our local partners are doing everything they can to keep children learning, but it’s almost impossible with such disruption. Children must be able to learn in safety. Even when they can go to school, they are often too terrified to learn and concentrate."

More than 1.75 million children are out of school inside Syria and, after six and a half years of war, many young children have never attended school. One in three schools are now out of use because they have been bombed, taken over by armed groups or turned into shelters for fleeing families. The latest escalation comes after a period of relative calm in many parts of Syria and as the crisis has started to fade from global attention.

"The world must not get complacent about the situation in Syria. Children are still being bombed, attacked and denied a future, and the war is very far from over. There needs to be diplomatic pressure for an end to the violence now more than ever," Khush said.

*Names changed for protection

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