The paradox facing Syria’s lost generation

A female of the Syrian community stands behind Syria's flag during a protest outside Syria's embassy in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, March 17, 2017. Syrians mark the sixth anniversary of the country's bitter civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions of others. (Vadim Ghirda/AP Exchange)

The Syrian Civil War has had a devastating impact on the citizens of Syria. Family members and friends have been killed, homes have been destroyed and people have been forced to leave the country. But one of the often overlooked effects of the war is that it has made it unsafe for millions of Syrian students to receive a proper education. Many must put their lives at risk by stepping out their doors to walk down the street to the nearest school, and others have been attacked in their very own school buildings. As a result, the net enrollment rate throughout the country has dropped from nearly 100 percent to around 50 percent, according to a Save the Children report, making it the country with the second worst enrollment rate in the world. Such a collapse in the education system could be a severe detriment to Syrian children and quite possibly perpetuate the conflict; thus, it must be addressed as one of the significant concerns of the war.

Unfortunately, education is not a survival instinct. Therefore, in times of crisis when people are trying to stay alive, it is one of the first sacrifices students are forced to make. In besieged areas like Aleppo, where the enrollment rate is down to around 6 percent, schools are commonly destroyed by missiles and bombs. In fact, according to UNICEF, there have been 4,000 attacks on Syrian schools since the war began in 2011. One in three schools are destroyed or have been converted to shelters and thus cannot be used to educate students. As a result, schools have been forced to relocate to basements and caves, but even then, safety is not a guarantee.

Another significant part of the threat is the walk to school can often be through areas that are at a high risk of bombing raids. Many schoolteachers have responded by trying to open up smaller schools on as many street corners as possible to reduce the distances that students have to walk to receive their education. Even with these efforts, numerous families have determined that the area is still too dangerous for their children, and many of those who have not been killed in the attacks have decided to leave the country as refugees. Unfortunately, at refugee camps, the children’s access to education is no better.

For those who remain in Syria, educational funding has become another one of the largest roadblocks. Since many students are dropping out of school to work and raise money for their families, schools cannot charge the fees that they need to stay operating, and many do not have access to textbooks and supplies. According to Al Jazeera, the United Kingdom and other donors are trying to counter this problem by funding teacher’s salaries, infrastructural support and heating as well as equipment such as whiteboards. These funding efforts are crucial measures to address the problem temporarily, but as long as these schools are at risk of attacks, these additional funds cannot be considered a long-term solution.

Instead, the Syrian education crisis must be considered as a direct impact of the war. Until the conflict stabilizes, children cannot hope to attend school without risking their lives on a daily basis, no matter how much funding is pouring in from outside donors. But this does not mean that donors should abandon the cause. On the contrary, nations should double their efforts in peace negotiations, keeping in mind that for as long as the war continues, children are being denied their right to an education, and a group of Syrians already known as the Lost Generation will increase in number. The war must go first before Syria’s education system can be rebuilt.

This is not to say that donors should cease their support for Syrian schools, because there is another side to the paradox. Education is what allows people to understand conflict and take steps to deescalate it, and all too often, teachers have found that children who have come under the influence of terrorist groups such as ISIS are even more difficult to reach. In an Al Jazeera report, teacher Mohammad Mustafa said, “The ideas that Daesh [ISIL] put in the students' minds are more dangerous than having no education at all.” The lack of education is perpetuating this conflict as much as the conflict is perpetuating the lack of education. Therefore, steps must be taken to address the issue from both sides.


Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.