The struggle of Syrian refugee children to access education in Jordan

Syrian children attending a class in a refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan: Syrian children attending a class in a refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan: © Freedom House

This article is a brief presentation of Human Rights Watch’s report on the barriers to secondary education faced by Syrian refugee children in Jordan 

10 years of ongoing war in Syria forced more than 5 million people to seek refuge in neighbour countries. Syrian refugees face severe difficulties, living in poverty and struggling to receive education and enter the job market.  In June 2020, the non-governmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch published a report on the “Barriers to Secondary Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Jordan”, analyzing the main causes behind early school dropout among refugees and proposing new strategies to solve the problem. Even though Syrian refugees encounter similar - or even worse - difficulties in other neighbour countries, the report specifically focuses on Jordan because of the country’s stated goal of ensuring education for all children, its history of cooperation with humanitarian agencies, and the support it has always received from donors. Human Rights Watch conducted its research through interviews with Syrian refugee children and their families, teachers working in refugee camps, staff at NGOs and humanitarian agencies, and members of the Jordanian government.

According to Jordan’s educational plan for refugee children, 87% of Syrian children had enrolled in basic education in 2019. However, the country’s efforts to boost refugee children’s enrollment in primary school is jeopardized by the failure to keep them in secondary school. 

In fact, starting from age 12, Syrian children’s enrollment drops significantly: only 25% of Syrian children ages 16-18 are enrolled in a secondary school in Jordan - a small percentage if compared to more than 80% of their Jordanian peers. The lack of secondary education has negative repercussions on the future of displaced children, depriving them of skills and job opportunities and, according to the data collected, increasing the risk of poverty, sexual violence, recruitment by extremist armed groups, child labour and child marriage, the last ones being among the most common mechanisms for refugee families to survive poverty. 

One of the reasons given by both students and parents to explain early school dropout is the low quality of the “second shift” schools - provided by Jordan to accommodate refugee students - due to the teachers’ inadequate training. Even though Syrian refugee teachers could represent a useful resource in this context, they cannot work as public school teachers because these vacancies are only open to Jordanian citizens. Sending children to school is a financial sacrifice that is not worth undertaking for refugee families living in poverty, given the low quality of schools and the struggle of reaching the highest levels of education for Syrian students - who must enrol at Jordanian universities as foreign students, paying higher tuition. As a result, only 3% of Syrian refugee students actually enter Jordanian universities, while 24% of Jordanian students are enrolled. The lack of professional opportunities for Syrian refugees is another cause of school dropout, making them less inclined to continue their studies. As a matter of fact, on the Jordanian job market, 13 professions are completely closed and 24 are restricted for foreign citizens. 

The absence of safe and affordable transportation further disincentivizes students to continue their studies: many girls fear sexual harassment on their way to school, while the lack of adequate transportation for children with disabilities makes schools inaccessible for them. This latter category is particularly discriminated by the lack of accessible and inclusive schools, even though Jordan has quite advanced legislation on disability rights. 

Human Rights Watch’s report contains several recommendations aimed at improving Syrian refugees’ education in Jordan. First of all, Jordan should make an effort to open its labour market to refugee workers, as well as clarify its education plans and periodically collect disaggregated data on secondary education. The government should also remove existing legislation that represents an obstacle to education, such as the rule forbidding re-enrollment for children who have been out of school for three or more years or the compulsory requirement of a government-issued “service card” for refugee students. Providing better training for school teachers and allowing Syrian refugees to teach in public schools are crucial measures to take as well. The report also encourages foreign donors to maintain their financial support and to offer scholarships for Syrian students as well as international student visas in order to incentivize them to pursue secondary and higher education. Finally, the United Nations’ humanitarian agencies should cooperate with the Jordanian government and foreign donors in order to improve learning conditions for refugee children, so that secondary education can be the norm, rather than the exception, for them. 


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Author: Margherita Curti; Editor: Matteo Consiglio


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