THE emergence of a “lost generation” of Syrian children, a third of whom are out of school, risks undermining efforts to rebuild the war-torn country, a campaigner for the charity World Vision has warned.
Mark Chapple, the head of the “No Lost Generation” campaign at the charity, said, on the eve of a donor conference in Brussels last week, that, despite billions committed in funding, “huge gaps” in the education of Syrian children remained.
Since the launch of the campaign, which is supported by a coalition of NGOs, including UNICEF, pledges had gone unfulfilled. In 2016, world leaders vowed in London that, by the end of the 2016/17 academic year, all Syrian refugee children would be in school (News, 12 February 2016).
Figures for 2017 show that the percentage out of school ranges from 30 per cent in Iraq to 37 per cent in Lebanon. The percentage of older children in school is low: in Lebanon, 13 per cent of those aged 12 to 14 are in school, and four per cent of those aged 15 to 18.
“I don’t think we have successfully avoided a lost generation, but action has been taken,” Mr Chapple said. He praised the generosity of the host countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan, who had opened up their education systems to refugees. Since 2013, the percentage of children in and out of school had fallen; the enrolment rate was then just 34 per cent.
In Turkey last year, there was a 25-per-cent reduction in the number of out-of-school Syrian children, despite a 17-per-cent increase in numbers. But there were still “huge gaps”, Mr Chapple said, and funding for education appeals was “critically underfunded”.
Just half (49 per cent) of the No Lost Generation strategy was funded last year. At the end of the Brussels meeting, countries pledged $4 billion (£2.9 billion) in funding for the humanitarian response in Syria and host countries: less than half of the $9 billion requested.
A statement from nine NGOs, including World Vision, said that it “did not go nearly far enough”, and criticised the failure to increase the “paltry” three per cent of Syrian refugees which donor countries had taken in, “favouring instead to leave them in Syria’s neighbouring countries, which are hosting more than five million refugees”.
The UK is the second largest bilateral donor to the humanitarian response: new pledges last week took the total to £2.71 billion. The United States did not make a pledge.
“Education is one of the key priorities that we see from refugee and displaced families,” Mr Chapple said. “Mothers and fathers will say, once they have some shelter and food, they want education. When you look globally at indicators of instability and conflict, education ranks highly as an indicator of stability. By educating the population, you prepare it better for economic activity, working better with others, having a sense of pride. It instills hope for the future in your people.”
Education was also critical to help prepare for “rebuilding a Syria that is peaceful, prosperous, and stable, and for the stability of the region,” he said.
Before the outbreak of the conflict, an estimated 97 per cent of primary-age children, and 67 per cent of secondary-age children, in Syria were attending school, and literacy rates were higher than 90 per cent.
Within Syria today, 36 per cent of school-aged children — 2.1 million — are out of school, and 69 per cent of the country lives in extreme poverty. More than half of all educational facilities have been damaged, and ten per cent have been completely destroyed. In 2013, the UN described the decline in education as “the worst and fastest in the region’s history”.
A report by the Carnegie Middle East Center, Unheard Voices: What Syrian refugees need to return home, published last month, said that money provided to host countries was “not nearly enough”, given the “tremendous strain”.
It concluded that, “facing mounting social and economic difficulties, refugees feel trapped between host countries that do not want them and a Syria to which they cannot return.” They were “pessimistic about the prospects for a Syrian peace deal” and had “little faith that the Syria to which they aspire will soon be attainable”.