Save the Children analysed publicly available data, looked at its own programming, spoke to other organisations and surveyed almost 500 teachers. It found that:
• An estimated 2.45 million children, or one in three, were already out of school, by the end of 2019 in the whole of Syria. • The COVID-19 crisis has pushed an additional 50% out of education in the north of the country, resulting in two thirds of children being out of school in northern Syria.
• Between the first and second quarter of 2020, the number of students in Save the Children’s education programmes dropped from more than 11,200 to around 7,775.
• In North West Syria, Save the Children’s partners reported losing access to nearly 50% of students in some areas after the closure of schools in March.
• Teachers reported similar figures for Al Hol, Roj and Areesha camps in the North East, where at least 5,500 children stopped going to school.
Teachers who responded to the survey overwhelmingly said that poverty is the biggest reason for children dropping out of school, pointing to the cost of education and reliance on child labour as a source of income. Child labour is a particular grave concern in North East Syria, where 79% of the teachers said students dropped out because they had to support their families financially.
Some 60% of teachers said the pandemic has had an impact on the continuity of education in classrooms. Loss of physical learning spaces due to COVID-19 restrictions has meant the only option for children to learn is remotely, which many children do not have the means to do.
When schools closed, Save the Children rolled out new ways of remote learning to keep as many children as possible in education, including mobile teachers that visit students in their homes, online education and using text messaging services. This is despite several challenges, including children not having access to smartphones or internet, making it difficult for NGOs and partners to follow up with children who drop out.
Ameen*, 12, who lives in a camp in North West Syria, has to learn in the evening and work in the morning so he can provide for his siblings and mother. He said:
“I stopped studying because of COVID-19, and work farming cucumbers. A month after dropping out of school and working throughout that entire time, my mother and I were able to get a phone.
“I did not give up distance learning. I go to work during the day and when I am back in the evenings, I watch my classes on the WhatsApp group and listen to the voice notes sent by my teachers, then do my homework and send it to the group.”
Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, said:
“A decade of conflict has dragged millions of Syrian families into poverty, forced children to work just to survive and drove hundreds of thousands of them out of school, making education a pipe dream. Save the Children and other education actors have been doing what they can to ensure as many children as possible can learn in a safe space and realise their true potential.”
“COVID-19 has further exacerbated existing challenges that prevented children from learning. We fear that children who dropped out of school this year will never return. Dropping out of school is a fatal blow to the immense efforts that children and their families, have committed to education despite a decade of obstacles.”
The report Reversing Gains, which was launched today, calls for the reopening of schools when it is safe to do so, with an approach that combines in-person learning where possible, and remote education.
Save the Children is gravely concerned about the impact the lack of education of Syria’s children will have on the country’s future. The education sector desperately needs resources to continue safely, and donors should also fund programmes that help lift families out of poverty, so parents and caregivers can keep their children engaged in learning and don’t feel the need to resort to child labour and other negative coping mechanisms.