Syrian children determined to learn despite new challenges
For the past seven weeks Diyaa’s 20-minute journey to school has been taking two hours. If he’s lucky, he hitchhikes part of the way, the rest he has to go on foot.
Recent local restrictions on transporting students to schools teaching the national accredited curriculum in north-eastern Syria’s Hassakeh and Qamishli mean that 15-year-old Diyaa, and thousands of other students, must either go through a long - and sometimes dangerous - journey to school or stop going to a school of their choosing.
“I am wasting a lot of time on the road going to school and coming back. Many times, my friends and I arrive late to school or home because we can’t find transportation,” says Diyaa. “The cost of transportation, when we find it, has also become very high.”
Diyaa’s journey to school and continuing his education, has not been easy. He was displaced twice in one year seeking safety when the fighting got close to home and the school in his village was destroyed during the 7-year conflict in Syria.
“Despite all of this I never dropped out of school. I go to school 25km away now but I know that learning is important for my future.” Diyaa
Since the restrictions came in place end of September this year, tens of thousands of children in more than 366 schools in Hassakeh have been affected. Vehicles, including school buses and private cars, have been prevented from crossing checkpoints if they are carrying school children going to schools teaching the nationally accredited curriculum. Since the restrictions started, more than 10,000 students have not been able to attend their schools daily.
For Diyaa, who goes to formal school in the morning and to remedial classes in the afternoon, it means that he leaves home at 6:00AM and returns home at 4:00 in the afternoon. “Sometimes I am lucky and find a car to take me back to my village, sometimes I’m not and have to stay at my aunt's that night,” he says.
Trusted school busses stopped transporting children to national accredited schools for fear of having their vehicles impounded. Students are left to hitchhiking rides with strangers to get to school exposing them to increased risks. 12-year-old Omran, who goes to school in the centre of Hassakeh, has been walking three kilometres to the nearest main road every morning in the hope of finding someone to take him as close as possible to his school.
“Even if I find a car or a motorcycle driver who would accept to give me a ride, they ask me to get off before the checkpoint to avoid being fined or having their vehicle confiscated,” explains Omran.
Parents and children are having to come up with ways to overcome these restrictions and get to school. “I have talked to children who hide their school uniforms to get through checkpoints, parents who use motorbikes to avoid the checkpoints and many walk for hours.” says Ghassan Madieh, chief of UNICEF’s Qamishli field office. “While this has brought back some children to their classrooms, many thousands remain absent. It is heart-breaking to see so many miss out on school when we have worked so hard to get them back to education.”
Over the past weeks UNICEF and its UN partners have been engaged in efforts with all concerned parties at the local level to advocate for children to be able to go safely to a school of their choosing. “The education of children and their future should never be used as pawns of conflict and politics,” says Mr. Madieh. “Children in Syria are exhausted by seven years of conflict and should never suffer additional obstacles to safely accessing schools of their choosing.”
UNICEF is supporting education in Al-Hasakeh governorate through the rehabilitation of 22 schools and installation of 71 pre-fabricated classrooms. 619 children have benefitted from curriculum B (an accelerated-learning programme allowing children who missed on some educational years to catch up with their peers), and 5166 from the self-learning program. Additionally, 3206 teachers have been benefiting from training on active learning and curriculum B. UNICEF has provided school bags to 6800.