The Syrian education system: Assad’s crumbling propaganda tool

Over the past decade, there has been a shocking drop in the number of Syrian students, and for those still in school, the rising cost of learning is unsustainable, but the regime’s response is a further disinvestment and lower quality education, writes Joseph Daher.

Between 2010 and 2018, the school enrollment rate for children aged 5 to 17 fell from 85% to 61%, writes Joseph Daher. [GETTY]

Back to school started last week for more than 3.65 million students in Syria. For many Syrian families, this period has been marked by the fear that this will lead to increasing costs.

Needs for school supplies, including clothes, notebooks, pens and books, often exceed families’ monthly incomes, reaching between SYP 150,000 and 400,000 (about $53 to $142) for a single student. In an interview with the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan, Manal, a mother of four, explained that she needed about SYP 850,000 ($302) to supply all her children.

The prices of school supplies have globally increased by 50% (sometimes even by 75%) in certain governorates, compared to last year. This was attributed to the high costs of production and manufacturing, as well as the transportation of goods.

State employees have been offered the opportunity to purchase some of the supplies from the Syrian Trade Establishment (STE), the state institution whose branches sell food and other goods at low cost. price, but many of its stores lacked some of the necessary goods, not to mention, some of the materials available were of poor quality.

”Children often learn in overcrowded classrooms and in buildings with poor water and sanitation facilities, electricity, heating or ventilation. By the end of 2021, more than 2.4 million children in Syria were reported to be out of school, nearly 40% of them girls.”

Among the list of expenses is the cost of transportation, which has also increased in recent years due to rising fuel prices. Rising costs have had a negative impact on those living outside major urban centers, where most state institutions and the country’s economic activities are located.

This price increase has also resulted in more absenteeism among employees – including in schools – because these workers are forced to spend around half of their salary on transport alone. At the same time, a growing number of university and secondary students who live in the suburbs simply cannot afford to travel to attend classes.

Transport costs charged by private schools have also increased significantly in all governorates, often reaching or exceeding the value of school fees. Some private schools have charged transportation costs of more than SYP 3 million ($1,066) per year for each student.

All this happened against the background of a continuous rise in inflation in the country. For example, the national standard reference food basket in the country has increased by 33% since the start of the crisis in Ukraine, and by 87% compared to August 2021, reaching SYP 313,784 ($111.51). Meanwhile, the minimum monthly salary in Syria is SYP 92,970 ($33) and the average monthly salary for a state employee is around SYP 150,000 ($53.3).

Along with a continuous increase in the cost of sending children to school, the education system has also suffered greatly over the past decade due to war. One in three schools in Syria is not functioning because it has been destroyed, damaged or used for military purposes. With the current funding rate, it will take another 30 years to rehabilitate all these schools, according to a recent report published by UNICEF.

Children often learn in overcrowded classrooms and in buildings without water and sanitation, electricity, heating or ventilation. At the end of 2021, it was reported that more than 2.4 million children in Syria were out of school, almost 40% of them girls.

Between 2010 and 2018, the school enrollment rate for children aged 5 to 17 fell from 85% to 61%. Child labor is said to have increased dramatically during this period, with children seeking work to help their families survive, although no official data exists.

UNICEF has estimated that “more than 6.5 million children in Syria need help”, which is the highest number recorded since 2011.

In addition, about 150,000 teachers left their jobs in public education; that’s more than a third of the education employees that existed before the war.

Today, the general lack of qualified personnel in the sector is the result of [forced] immigration and low salaries in state institutions. This has been the case in Suwayda, for example, where in all schools in the governorate there is a shortage of teachers, especially those specializing in science and mathematics.

The story of shortages is very similar in other regions as well. The government has tried to compensate for this by employing university students to replace them – often as ‘contract’ staff who receive lower salaries and lack sufficient training.

Meanwhile, a large number of public school teachers who are qualified to provide the education Syrian children need have sought other ways to earn money, including giving private lessons.

Furthermore, the education sector has suffered both directly and indirectly from the sanctions imposed on Syria, despite the existence of humanitarian exemptions for all legitimate aid operations, including interventions in the area of ​​humanitarian aid. ‘education. The sanctions have notably reduced the delivery of technical equipment, tools and teaching materials. The difficult and complex regulations that exist have led many suppliers (US and non-US) to refuse, for example, the supply of software and laptops to NGOs in Syria.

Today, the main concern of the Syrian government seems to be the manipulation of the national curriculum which it uses to propagandize among students. And allocations to the Ministry of Education by Damascus have actually declined in real terms by more than six times (about 81%) between 2010 and 2021.

The instrumentalization of education in the service of the interests of the Syrian regime and the lack of investment in infrastructure, services and the quality of education contribute to the permanent drama of young people, and more generally of the Syrian people. In this context, the number of children and adolescents who will remain out of school, with no prospect of returning, will only increase.

In Syria, as everywhere, education alone cannot transcend all the problems that exist in society. However, drastic improvements and investments through human capital and strong, well-resourced infrastructure are essential to improving the lives of future generations.

Joseph Daher teaches at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and is an Affiliate Professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where he participates in the “Wartime and Post-Conflict in Syria Project”. He is the author of “Syria after the uprisings, the political economy of state resilience”.

Follow him on Twitter: @JosephDaher19

Do you have any questions or comments ? Email us at: [email protected]

The views expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or its staff.