World, Education

Syrian children need a common curriculum: Experts

Academics, experts at Istanbul conference warn about large numbers of unschooled Syrian children overseas

20.02.2017
Syrian children need a common curriculum: Experts File Photo (Abdulhamit Yasar - Anadolu Agency)

By Ilker Girit

ISTANBUL

Over 1,000 academics and professionals from nearly 60 institutions in the field of education, mostly in Arab countries, have called for a common curriculum for Syrian migrant children.

The experts, gathered for the two-day International Conference for Syrian Education in Istanbul, warned on Sunday that the issue of the schooling of Syrian children should be solved as soon as possible.

Ahmed Natuf, the conference’s spokesman, told reporters that nearly half of the 1.5 million school-age Syrian migrant children abroad have no access to formal education, while the remaining are being educated in various curriculums in the countries they took shelter in.

Urging the hosting governments and NGOs that provide education to refugees to cooperate with each other, Natuf called for the creation of a non-ideological "common curriculum based on human rights and gender equality”.

He stressed that Syria’s national identity should be protected in such a curriculum.

Ercan Demirci, Turkey’s deputy education undersecretary, stated, "[Syrian] children need to be integrated into the education system where they live. But this should be done without losing their essence."

Addressing the conference, he said there are nearly 850,000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey, with half a million enrolled in public schools.

He added that the remaining would be schooled in the coming years as Turkey is arranging a program to add 200,000 more children to the system next year.

Turkey hosts some 3 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world, followed by Lebanon and Jordan. Turkey has spent around $25 billion helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Speaking at the conference, Brain Lally from University College London said, "If Syria is going to be rebuilt as a nation … [it] is going to need doctors, engineers, architectures and lawyers... people highly skilled, highly motivated."

Lally stressed that institutions ought to educate young people who are skilled not just technically, but who have critical thinking skills and emotional understanding.

Syria will also “need people who have the characteristics and attributes to rebuild families, rebuild communities. Not just in terms of jobs, but in terms of relationships," he said.

Lally also stressed that partnerships between hosting countries and NGOs is critical as they need productive ways to deal with education.

Bulent Yildirim, the head of Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), told the conference that while more than 500,000 people have taken shelter in refugee camps in Idlib, northwestern Syrian, the camps have only three schools.

"We have to educate these children in line with their traditions and the place where they are," Yildirim stated.

According to Human Right Watch (HRW), almost 500,000 Syrian school-age children are also in Lebanon, and the authorities "offered 200,000 places for Syrian children to enroll free in public schools" in 2015.

HRW also stated that "about 80,000 of the 225,000 school-aged Syrian children in Jordan were out of school" in 2015.

The Istanbul conference, organized by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar-based Sheikh Eid Bin Mohammad Al Thani Charitable Foundation (Eid Charity), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Humanitarian Funds (OICHF), Islamic Council for Grants Foundations, and the Marifet Education and Culture Foundation in collaboration with the Turkish Education Ministry, aimed to establish a joint commission to promote the schooling of Syrian children.

Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests – which erupted as part of the Arab Spring uprisings – with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed and millions more displaced by the conflict.

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