Education for Syrian refugee children
Even in times of war and displacement, children should have the chance to attend school and receive an education. Through the Regional Holistic Education Programme (RHEP) in the Middle East, we support more than 10,000 children in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon with the aim to ensure that their right to education, protection and development is being upheld.
The ongoing crisis in Syria, which started in 2011, calls for new measures to ensure that affected children can enjoy their rights to protection and education despite the crisis. With the Regional Holistic Education Programme (RHEP) we have been able to support more than 10,000 children in Jordan and Lebanon since 2015 and since 2018 we have also been working directly in Syria. The best way to ensure that these children have a self-determined and successful future is to provide them with the support they need in order to cope with the difficult experiences they have made and the challenging circumstances they might still be facing.
Almost half the people fleeing Syria are under the age of 18. As many as 2.5 million Syrian children have found refuge in Syria's neighboring countries – predominantly in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Despite the host countries’ notable efforts to integrate the refugee children into the local education system, there are currently 700,000 Syrian children in Jordan and Lebanon who do not attend school. Nearly 43 percent of Syrian refugee children in the region do not have access to adequate education. However, access to schools and the possibility to continue their education is essential for these refugee children and their development, as well as their future prospects. Otherwise, they are at risk of becoming a so call “lost generation”. Through quality education, prospects and hope for a better future are preserved!
How we support Syrian refugee children
Education and Hope
In cooperation with the local partner organizations (Caritas Jordan, Caritas Lebanon and since 2018 Caritas Syria), Caritas Austria, (Caritas) Salzburg and (Caritas) Kärnten/Carinthia have provided Syrian refugee children with access to quality education, since 2015. 70 percent of these children are Syrian refugees, 30 percent are vulnerable children from the host countries. In addition to the education for their children, the families receive support through Life Skill trainings that include alphabetization and language classes, as well as basic computer-skill courses and first aid trainings. This support is needed urgently since Syria's neighboring countries still have major deficiencies regarding access to quality education, child protection and psychosocial support. RHEP continuously contributes to reducing these deficiencies, so as to enhance the well-being and prospects of children and their communities and decrease the number of children in the region who are out of school, which at this point are still 43 percent.
Due to the improving safety situation in Syria, the Caritas RHEP program can also provide access to educational measures for children and teenagers in Syria itself since 2018.
A detailed report of the RHEP Programme’s implementation can be found here
Abbad and Bilal (9)
attend school in Syria and receive psychological support
Abbad and Bilal (names changed) are nine-year-old twins, who have remained in Syria with their family during the war. For the two bright boys, the educational and psychosocial center in the Shekh Abou Baker region of Caritas Aleppo in Syria is a real opportunity. In the newly opened Caritas Center, which is also being supported by the RHEP education programme since 2018, Abbad and Bilal can return to school for the first time in years. Moreover, Abbad, who suffers from a chronic brain disease, receives special support and psychological care.
Abbad remembers rejoining school with pleasure: "It was here that I learned how to hold a pen properly in my hand." Eventhough Abbad is very inquisitive and ambitious, the learning deficit stemming from his illness required tremendous commitment from him and his teachers. Commitment which has paid off: Abbad has made great progress in recent months and has almost reached the level of his twin brother, Bilal. Their secret? "We always help each other with the tasks we get as homework," they say with big smiles on their faces.
Abbad and Bilal already have very concrete plans for their future. Bilal wants to become an English teacher and also teach at the Caritas Center. Abbad, however, has other goals: "I want to become a doctor, then I can help people to feel better. Just like my doctor helped me."
What does "holistic" mean?
Within the RHEP education programme, holistic means not only providing the children with access to education, but also making sure that they are in a good mental state which enables them to understand and absorb the educational content. Their well-being in the classroom as well as within their families and the wider community is taken into account and the children also receive psychosocial support. Moreover, it is important to foster social cohesion between the refugees and the host society, in order to avoid social tension. This integrative, holistic approach is oriented towards the UN initiative for the prevention of a lost generation (“No Lost Generation Initiative” – www.nolostgeneration.org/), who have little chance of a self-determined future due to a lack of educational opportunities, as well as towards international standards (INEE – Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies –https://inee.org/) and is implemented on four levels:
Caritas provides Syrian refugee children and vulnerable children from the host countries Jordan and Lebanon with access to adequate, quality education. Offering primary education for children between the age of 3 and 18, the programme also includes a kindergarten and tutoring lessons. For additional support, the program also covers the expenses for transportation, school materials and healthy school lunches. Moreover, the improvement of the partner schools’ infrastructure benefits all pupils attending the school.
Learner-centred means placing the learners and students at the centre of education measures. The teaching staff’s whole attention is focussed on the students, their development and the achievement of their goals. In this way, children’s individual difficulties and learning challenges – which are often the result of flight and trauma – can be identified much faster and responded to with psychosocial and psychotherapeutic measures. This allows for the children to actively participate in lessons and regain a sense of normality.
The exchange with teachers and supervisors, the interaction with school friends as well as the integration of regenerating and recreational activities into daily school life are also effective ways to increase the mental well-being of the children and subsequently their families and their environment.
One of the key elements of the holistic education programme is having access to a safe and secure school and learning environment. Consequently, RHEP programme partner schools offer comprehensive and high-quality education, which also enables children traumatized by war and displacement to advance their talents and abilities at school, further their personal development and acquire knowledge and skills. Schools must be safe and accessible to all, regardless of gender, disability or academic level. Furthermore, schools are spaces in which socio-political divisions and inequalities can be reduced and thus, they have the potential to have lasting positive effects on social stability and the wider community.
In addition, maintenance training and hygiene awareness training to ensure appropriate use of the facilities is provided in the course of the RHEP education programme. Furthermore, medical check-ups for the children are being conducted.
Educational workshops are offered to parents, caregivers of children and pupils to promote parents’ involvement in their children's education, as well as to make them aware of the importance of that education. Meetings between teachers and parents are held to keep parents informed about their children’s progress and developments, as well as to provide teachers with insight about possible difficulties children might face at home. Moreover, recreational activities are provided for the children and their parents to promote and strengthen parent-child relationships. In addition, parents and teachers also receive support in self-care sessions to help them cope with stress and potential trauma.
PEER – A strong network for education in situations of crisis
Children are the ones most affected in humanitarian crises. Often they experience the loss of internationally established rights such as the right to education, leisure and protection from physical and mental violence, and economic exploitation (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989). Caritas is committed to ensuring that affected children can exercise their rights and develop their diverse potential, since the lack of educational opportunities particularly, can have a lasting negative impact on children’s development and their future lives. Therefore, access to education – even under adverse conditions – is one of the most important measures to counter the long-term effects of war and displacement.
In order to fulfil this aim not only within the RHEP education programme, but also advocate for this important topic with a strong voice within the Caritas network, Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland have developed the strategic network PEER (Partnership on Education in Emergencies in the Middle East). The PEER network promotes mutual exchange of experiences across organizations, allows for synergies in the field of "education in emergencies" and provides participating organizations and their partners with a common and significantly stronger voice within the public discourse. All partner organisations within the PEER network have the same goal: to join and strengthen our efforts within the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) and to give people hope and perspective for their future lives through education.
Connecting Academia to Practice
Accompanying scientific research has played an integral role in informing the set-up, implementation and annual programme revisions of RHEP, building an evidence base and feeding back into programme design and implementation. Research developed within RHEP further aimed at supporting the development and dissemination of good practice in refugee education programming for the region. Caritas Austria set up a partnership with the Centre of Applied Research in Education (CARE) of the Notre Dame University in Beirut, led by Dr. Bassel Akar. The following research reports were commissioned based on joint consultations around knowledge gaps and research needs among partners and can be accessed here:
Innovative approaches and tools in holistic education for refugees: Exploring eight educational programs for syrian refugees in Lebanon
pdf, 191 KB
Early childhood education and kindergarten for syrian refugee children and vulnerable host community children in Jordan and Lebanon
pdf, 459 KB
Examining the roles of caregivers of early childhood development and education of syrian refugee and vulnerable host community children in Jordan and Lebanon
pdf, 736 KB
RHEP Programme countries
The situation in the countries
A country four times smaller than Switzerland hosts one million refugees
Nearly one million Syrians are officially registered as refugees in Lebanon – a country that fits four times into Switzerland and has a population of around four million people. However, according to estimates, the actual number of refugees in Lebanon could be twice as high. The large number of refugees has immense logistical and social impacts on the country and its population. The poverty rate has been rising steadily since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, and economic development is steadily declining.
The public opinion shifted
Similar to the developments in Austria, the public opinion towards those who seek protection in Lebanon has changed significantly in the past few years. The initial tolerance has waned and there are tensions between host families and those seeking protection. The discontent among the Lebanese over the large influx of Syrians is growing. Challenges in the delivery of public services - not only in the education sector - are obvious and have a strong impact on daily life in the small country. The infrastructure was not sufficient even before the Syrian civil war, but now the country is struggling with drinking water shortages and increasingly frequent power outages. The political climate remains tense.
Refugees live in extreme poverty
Many of people who have fled to Lebanon live in extreme poverty and are often housed in one of the approximately1,500 informal refugee camps, where the supply situation is often highly precarious and poses a daily struggle to the residents - for food, clothing, medical care and survival.
650.000 Syrian refugees
In its tradition-steeped history, Jordan has provided shelter for many people in situations of emergency. Following Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, the kingdom has now welcomed more than 650,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the ongoing war in Syria. More than two-thirds of the Syrian refugees live outside the large refugee camps in the midst of the Jordanian society.
The country’s capacities have been reached
Health care systems, schools, and resources which are already scarce, such as water, are heavily strained through the increased need due to the additional people who fled Syria and are seeking protection in Jordan. There are hardly any income opportunities for Syrians, even though, the country is trying to gradually open up the labor market for Syrian refugees. After surviving war and terror in Syria, many families are now facing a daily struggle for survival in Jordan, and more than 80 percent of Syrian refugees live in precarious circumstances below the national poverty line.
Refugee crisis as a development opportunity?
Refugees continue to depend on monthly assistance. Jordan, in turn, needs support from the international community to provide this assistance to Syrian refugees and keep them in Jordan, thereby reducing the migratory pressure towards Europe. An agreement (Jordan Compact 2016) between the Jordanian government and the international community is trying to reverse the refugee crisis into development opportunities for the country, so as to strengthen the Jordanian host society and prevent rising tensions.
- The civil war in Syria has been going on for 8 years (since 2011)
- 13 million people are in need of humanitarian aid (including 5.6 million children)
- 6.2 million people are displaced within the country
- 5.6 million people have fled to neighboring countries (mostly to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey)
- 1.75 million children in Syria are out of school
- 1/3 of all schools in Syria were destroyed
Political and humanitarian situation in Syria
The civil war in Syria, which has been going on for eight years now, has had devastating consequences for the country's population. Since the protests against Bashar Al Assad's government and the subsequent outbreak of the war in March 2011, approximately 560,000 people have been killed and just under 12 million Syrians have fled, according to the London-based "Independent Observatory for Human Rights".
By this time, the majority of Syrian territory is back under the control of the Syrian government. Baghus, a village on the Iraqi border in eastern Syria and the last stronghold of the so-called Islamic State (IS), was liberated from the Jihadists at the end of March 2019. Due to the government’s advance, the security situation in some parts of the country is improving. This and the increasing pressure put on refugees in neighboring countries, increases the public debate about the return of refugees to their homeland. However, it is important to proceed with caution and consider all the possible risks, as stated in the policy position of CAFOD and Caritas Scotland “Syria Refugee Returns”. The issue of property rights in connection with land and buildings destroyed by the war is currently a large and unresolved problem. In addition, many men have fled military service and returnees are in danger of being branded as members of the opposition by the government. How the government is going to deal with them is still unclear. Moreover, the fact remains that Syria is still at war and according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a safe return is not guaranteed.
“My biggest wish is to go back to Syria”
„She constantly cried.“
On his escape from Homs in Syria to Jordan, Ibrahim, the father of these two girls was constantly worried that they would be killed. He still distinctly remembers the border crossing: “Majd, Rafeef’s little sister was still a baby. Since we had to leave everything behind on the last stretch, I put Majd in a small bag and carried her. She constantly cried, but there was no time to take care of it. We knew that we had to move forward fast.”
Rafeef attends the Caritas afternoon school
8-year old Rafeef is the oldest of three siblings and one of the refugee children who made it to Jordan safely. When she was three years old, her family had to leave their hometown Homs because of bomb attacks. After some time in Za’atari refugee camp, her family now lives in one of the poorest areas of Amman. Her father suffers from chronic back pain and is unable to work. Her mother left the family two years ago. Ibrahim’s greatest concern is the future of his daughters. But Rafeef is lucky. She can attend an afternoon school run by Caritas. In this way, she can continue persuing her dream of becoming a doctor. Rafeef also wants to travel – ideally to her grandparents and her aunt who still live in Syria.
Many children are traumatized
Manar is one of the counsellors at the Caritas School in Jordan. As a teacher, she was able to gain a lot of experience from which not only her colleagues, but most importantly the Syrian refugee children benefit. Many of them are traumatized due to the experiences of war and displacement. Extreme behaviors like hyperactivity or seclusion are no rarity. The parents themselves often suffer from trauma and are unable or barely able to support their children. Teachers and counsellors therefore have a great responsibility. In addition to the academic support, they also give psychic support in the form of praise and recognition which give a tangible orientation framework for the children. Manar is convinced of the fact that, if their right to education is upheld, Syrian children have a real chance for a successful future. Intellectual support, a daily structure as well as the exchanges and interactions with peers help the children to process the experiences made and to integrate into society.
Who we are
Head of humanitarian aid
RHEP Regional Program Coordinator Syria
RHEP Program Coordinator Lebanon
RHEP Program Coordinator Jordan
Communication & Advocacy