Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Blog

By Emily Jabareen

The drums of war rarely affect those on the battlefield alone. As the number of civilian casualties rises in Syria, even those fortunate enough to escape the violence have not been spared.  Refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon are already overcrowded, absorbing around 200,000 people, and UNHCR has recently reported than an estimated 3,000 Syrians flee the country daily, broadening the implications of the conflict as the fallout spills over into neighboring states.

In the Za’atari refugee camp of Mafraq, Jordan, the devastating impact of the conflict is bitterly apparent. Students huddle together in open tents waiting for classes to begin. The lack of facilities in Jordanian public schools and the suddenness of displacement have forced students in the refugee camp to resort to less conventional options for their daily education. The supplies are limited and the teaching staff is new and largely inexperienced in the makeshift classrooms that are ill-equipped to deal with the 4,000 or so students residing in the camp.

The situation in Lebanon is no different. Though Syrian students have found some accommodations, Lebanese officials are forcing many students out of the Lebanese public education system, and offering them tents in poor exchange. Even among those who were able to attend public schools last year, the language barrier and the complications of adjusting to a new curriculum have discouraged many students from going. According to UNICEF, nearly 70% of Syrian students aged 15 to 17 attending public schools in Lebanon have dropped out.

One of the challenges facing Syrian students lies in adjusting to a post-Assad curriculum.  Schools that remain functional in Syria have already begun purging textbooks containing government propaganda. The changes are by no means perfunctory, and are part of the process of constructing and conceptualizing political and historical realities outside government mandate.

The challenge presents an opportunity to educate students on the importance of civic engagement and democracy at a time when Syria’s future is uncertain, and new structural spaces are open for the formation of a democratic government. Yet, the tenuous state of Syrian students’ access to education may have already created a dent in future prospects. The majority of Syrian students have missed nearly two years of regular education on average, and the reported destruction of 2,000 Syrian schools dampens hopes of a return to normal school life even if the conflict is resolved.

The United States has contributed a total of $100 million to assist in humanitarian efforts in and around Syria, including education. While this adds greatly to the capacity of UN organizations and NGOs on the ground, financial assistance is not enough. Though the Obama administration has been outspoken against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, violence continues to escalate, and the side effects of the uprising are growing proportionally worse as well. The dire state of Syrian education merely adds another dimension to consider when assessing the effectiveness of the US’s non-intervention policy.