Education Crisis in Syria - Teacher Perspectives
The years of conflict since 2011 have divided Syria into several regions that are de facto controlled by various political and military actors. Each of these authorities adopts a different educational system in terms of administration, approved curricula, and the language of basic education. In particular, there is a variation in human resources, infrastructure, and financing agencies, depending on each region.
Stemming from conversations in the INEE Community of Practice, and with results from a short survey distributed in some impacted communities, this blog compiles the testimonies from several teachers and parents of students in northwest Syria. The dire situation described here is also indicative of the conditions in other regions outside the control of the Syrian government.
The teachers mainly point to the lack of proper support for education and educators in their regions. This is partially due to the scarcity of funding and the decline of the international community’s interest in the Syrian crisis due to its prolonged duration and its increasing complexity over the years. It is also due to the emergence of complex international crises in other regions of the world, such as the war in Ukraine. A New Humanitarian article, entitled “It’s time to talk about northwest Syria“, expands more details on the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria.
Several important challenges were unanimously identified by the teachers in our conversations:
Challenge 1: Lack of resources and insufficient income
Teachers in most regions in Syria lack the material and the financial resources needed to teach effectively, and it is often difficult for them to meet the basic needs of their families. This lack of stability and resources makes it difficult for teachers to focus on their work, and it deteriorates the quality of education. As a result, many teachers are pushed to leave the profession and seek other jobs elsewhere, which leads to teacher shortage and high children drop-out rates and an increase in child labor.
One teacher explained the extent of financial instability and inequity for teachers:
“One of the most important challenges facing teachers is the intermittent and sometimes non-existent financial support. Teachers are either paid during only a few months of the school year, or subsidized during the year and have no income during the summer break. Few others don’t get paid at all as they are employed as volunteers! This unpredictability leads to a loss of job security and has a negative impact on the teaching and learning process and, of course, on the students.”
Additionally, soaring inflation and the depreciation of the Syrian pound and the Turkish Lira (adopted in north and northwest Syria since 2020), exacerbate the struggle of the communities, including poorly paid professionals, like teachers. One teacher from a region under Turkish control shared about the severe depreciation of his salary paid in Turkish Lira:
“In 2018, the teacher's monthly salary was 500 liras, worth about US$130. In 2020, the salary was increased to 750 liras, but was equivalent to only US$110. In early 2022, my increased salary of 1,100 liras was worth only US$65. Lately, after multiple protests and strikes, the Turkish Ministry of education set the salary of Syrian teachers at 1,925 liras, equivalent to only about US$100”.
Since this conversation took place, the Turkish government agreed to raise the minimum wage of its nationals to 8,500 lira in 2023, but it is not clear if this will also apply to Syrian teachers. And the devastating earthquake crisis in early February 2023 will certainly have a negative impact on the implementation of this and other measures.
The findings of the 2023 Humanitarian Need Overview resonate with the concerns of the teachers. The report shows that the soaring inflation and the shrinking purchasinge power of communities and individuals severely affect teachers’ ability to meet their most basic needs. Low and irregular salaries pose an additional challenge, especially for teachers who need to travel long distances to reach their schools and cover associated transportation costs. This leads to absenteeism, teacher attrition, and teacher strikes that disrupt education processes.
Challenge 2: Lack of qualification and training for teachers
The long-term crisis has caused a severe shortage of trained teachers, and the agencies managing the educational process have had to rely on teachers who are not adequately prepared and supported, and, as a result, they are unable to support quality learning. A simple example is the challenge facing many teachers to understand the different dialects of their pupils from different regions, which makes classroom communication and learning difficult. The lack of training and preparedness for teachers can have a long-term negative impact on basic education and can lead to a decline in the knowledge and skills of pupils and students in general.
Findings from a multi-sectoral needs assessment (MSNA) conducted in July-August 2022 underline the underinvestment in teachers as it is reflected in the responses of households with school age children, where 44 percent perceived a need to enhance teacher capacity, 18 percent cited the need to increase teacher pay, and 11 percent cited the need to hire more teachers to improve educational services.
Challenge 3: Decreasing number of operational schools and overcrowded classrooms
A shortage of qualified teachers and reduced support leads to overcrowded classrooms and a lack of student support. One participant from Jindires indicated that there are 50 pupils in a grade 1 class in the school of the village. In such circumstances, it is difficult for teachers to take care of their students, let alone to respond to their urgent needs for psychosocial support and care, which, in these contexts, are as important and challenging as academic support. This, of course, increases the risks of school dropouts and the spread of illiteracy among youth.
Challenge 4: The lack of educational supplies necessary for a good learning process
The lack of books and educational equipment such as curricula, stationery, and instructional technology makes it difficult for teachers to properly support their students' learning, and increases frustration among students and teachers alike.
Short-term funding structures fail long-term needs
It is no secret that the challenges that hinder education in Syria have many dimensions - financial, social, and especially military and political. A conversation with INEE community members advocating for education in northwestern Syria revealed some of the causes of the financial crisis faced by schools and teachers. Education funding in Syria is mostly dependent on international organizations, which tend to support non-formal education as the simplest, and often best, intervention in acute emergency situations. But the situation in all regions of Syria has now evolved from a state of emergency to a state of complex and protracted crisis, which requires different, deeper, and longer-term solutions to support education in early recovery.
This assessment is confirmed in many studies, for instance, the study entitled “Syria’s Education Crisis: A Sustainable Approach After 11 Years Of Conflict”, co-authored by an INEE member, and published in March 2022, identifies overarching challenges to the education provision in the different regions of Syria as:
- Delays in adopting an early recovery approach to education adapted to the protracted nature of the conflict, which would entail more strategic, long-term planning.
- An unsustainable, short-term funding approach that results in major gaps in programming, de-prioritization of quality control and monitoring of learning outcomes, and an insufficient amount of resources for education.
- Poor data management and disaggregation of information per region, compromising accuracy of data analysis and preventing more nuanced assessments of education trends and needs across the Whole of Syria.
There is no doubt that complex crises require comprehensive, not partial solutions. We hope that this short article helps bring the spotlight back on the educational situation in Syria. We hope that teachers, education advocates, and funders will be able to work together to find new and creative solutions, and new resources to finance quality education everywhere in Syria.
For more information and evidence on the complex education situation in Syria, consult these studies and reports:
- 2023 Humanitarian Needs Overview: Syrian Arab Republic, UN OCHA, December 2022
- It’s time to talk about northwest Syria, The New Humanitarian, September 2022
- Schools in Syria, Edition 07, Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), August 2022
- Syria’s Education Crisis: A Sustainable Approach After 11 Years Of Conflict, The Middle East Institute, March 2022
- The Needs of the Post-War Generation... Educational Gaps in Northwestern Syria as a Model, Only in Arabic, Omran for Strategic Studies, January 2023
- “Hope Under Siege” Voices of adolescents on education and ICT during the Syrian Conflict, Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR), September 2022
For resources supporting the provision of education, and the psychosocial support and wellbeing of learners, teachers, and those who have been affected by the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, see: Türkiye and Syria Earthquake Response Resources.
You can share your suggestions with our team via the INEE community of practice, #syria channel or by sending an email to the channel facilitator Bilal Khalifa firstname.lastname@example.org, and to email@example.com.
Special thanks to Layla Hasso, Karam Alameer, Anas Almohammad, and Bilal Khalifa who provided valuable information, resources, and insights to help shape this blog. This piece originated from conversations and a collaboration with Syrian INEE members and communities who are now facing a new disaster with the devastating earthquake of 6 February 2023. The INEE community expresses its support and solidarity with all those impacted.
Dr. Oula Abu-Amsha, is the INEE Learning and Development Coordinator, and was the INEE Community of Practice Coordinator from 2021-2022. Oula is a former Syrian professor. She spent 12 years at the Higher Institute for Applied Sciences and Technology in Damascus, as well as at the University of Damascus, and the Syrian Virtual University. Since her exile from Syria in 2012, she started her activities in Education in Emergencies working with the World Bank, Mosaik Education (formerly The Jamiya Project), Jesuit Worldwide Learning, and the Center for Professional Learning at Childhood Education International.