Photo: AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR / NTB Scanpix.

Accessing education in the midst of the Syria crisis

Kristine Kolstad|Published 26. Apr 2018
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, over half of the Syrian population has been displaced. One in four schools has been damaged, destroyed or are being used as temporary shelters, leaving an estimated 2.08 million children and youth in Syria out of school.

Education is a fundamental human right for all children and youth. It provides children with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to build their own future and provides the opportunity for them to develop the voice through which other rights can be claimed and protected.


Destroyed school in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, February 2018. Photo: NRC


Displacement often has a damaging and long-lasting impact on children and youth. In this regard, Syria is no exception. Before the conflict, an estimated 97 per cent of Syrian children attended primary school and 67 per cent of secondary aged youth attended secondary school.

The Syria crisis has had a devastating impact on both the education opportunities available and the quality of these opportunities; it has left a generation of children and youth unprotected, disconnected and often unable to access their right to learn. With 40 per cent of schools destroyed or damaged, under attack and/or used for temporary shelters, schools are no longer a safe or joyful place for children to hope and dream.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)'s education programme is focussed on providing learning opportunities for out-of-school children and youth. These programmes create pathways for children and youth to return to learning, supporting them to recover learning lost and successfully return to the classroom.

In the height of violence, many children across Syria have spent weeks learning in makeshift and underground schools.
Thomas White, Country Director in Syria

Youth as agents of change

NRC programmes support children and youth displaced inside Syria and refugees living in neighbouring countries.


Mahmoud had to flee from Syria and was deprived of this education. Now he encourage others to study.


17-year-old Mahmoud from Eastern Ghouta left Syria six years ago. As a result of the crisis, he had to drop out of school in sixth grade, and never had the chance to complete his education. After attending training sessions on starting up and implementing social initiatives that benefit refugee communities, run by the NRC in a refugee camp in Jordan, Mahmoud started up an initiative to help his friends.

As a refugee I can’t study because of my financial issues. I have to work instead of studying. Studying is essential, and I am deprived of it.
Mahmoud Mohamed, 17

The initiative focuses on building grade 12 students’ capacities in self-empowerment, breaking routine patterns, positive thinking and task management. Mahmoud hopes that his initiative can motivate young people like himself to continue their education and never lose their hope or their energy.

Responding to the situation in Eastern Ghouta

With the influx of people fleeing Eastern Ghouta, NRC was one of many humanitarian agencies to respond to the grave needs of tens of thousands of newly displaced people. “Many of these children have spent weeks going to makeshift and underground schools,” says Thomas White, NRC’s Country Director in Syria.


Children participating in NRC's learning activities at the Adra IDP Centre just hours after fleeing from Eastern Ghouta. Most of the children have suffered months of serious distress. Photo: NRC


As NRC has witnessed in many crises, the capacity of education systems to deliver quality education is often significantly reduced during and after conflict. Literacy rates in Syria used to be high, at over 90 per cent for both men and women. Now, large numbers of children unable to access education opportunities are at risk of becoming illiterate.

In order to address this, NRC works together with authorities and communities, looking at schools we wish to prepare as ‘Welcoming Schools’ to help children and youth return to learning. We work on some of the hard components of rehabilitation by refurbishing schools which have been damaged by conflict. “It also means we’re working with parents, teachers and administrators in schools to get them up and running again. We’re working on programmes, such as how to help out-of-school children and youth who have missed one or more years of school to re-enrol into the school system. Through NRC’s Better Learning Programme, we also work to help children who have suffered trauma, to cope with the stress of conflict and displacement and to once again re-engage in learning,” Thomas White explains.

The impact of another child having another year out of the education system is not just a cost here and now, it’s a cost for the future. It’s a cost for the future society in Syria.
Thomas White

With high hopes of supporting Syrian children and youth to return to learning, White estimates that NRC will help tens of thousands of children return to learning, many of whom have missed months or years of schooling.