Syrian teachers: We will teach despite air strikes

Students and teachers defy daily threat of violence as UNICEF says one in every four schools has been destroyed.

Children collect items from among the debris of a school, destroyed in what activists said were U.S.-led air strikes against the Islamic State, in Raqqa
Children collect debris from a school, destroyed in an air strike in Raqqa [Nour Fourat/Reuters]

The United Nations has warned that 2.5 million children could be displaced as refugees from Syria by the end of 2016 and that an entire generation risks having their future compromised.

School enrolment rates, among the highest in the world before the war, have fallen dramatically, with only 17 percent of children displaced within Syria now in school – in some of the areas worst hit by fighting and indiscriminate air strikes, enrolment rates are as low as 6 percent.

Pupils play in a school playground in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr [Reuters]
Pupils play in a school playground in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr [Reuters]

A total of two million Syrian children are out of school, an annual report released by UNICEF for 2015 said.

In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, air strikes and rocket attacks are an almost daily occurrence. The city is controlled by government forces in the west and rebels in the east.

Nour, a ninth-grade pupil in the rebel-held part, told Al Jazeera via a local activist that for a long time she had to stop going to school because it was too dangerous.

“We are afraid of going to school, because many of the schools around us have been bombed and students have been killed while they were in class,” she said.

“Some people are killed instantly and buried under the rubble, but yet we will continue waking up and going to school.”

Talking about her hopes for the future, Nour said she wants to be a history teacher when she grows up so she can tell her pupils what kind of childhood she had.

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Aid group Save the Children said in a report released in November that there have been more than 4,000 attacks on schools inside Syria over the past four years.

But Abdul Rahman Kanjo, a history teacher in Aleppo since 2009, said he is not afraid of going to work.

Children warm themselves around a fire during cold weather in Aleppo [Reuters]
Children warm themselves around a fire during cold weather in Aleppo [Reuters]

“Just as a fighter is not afraid of going to the frontline, a teacher who educates children in such circumstances should not be afraid of going to work,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It seems that this war will drag on, and we cannot have our children staying without an education.”

Despite the relentless war, Kanjo has not lost hope. 

“I believe there is a brighter future for the children of Syria. We just need to help them reach it.” 

It is not only violence that is preventing children from getting an education. Many children in Aleppo have left school to help provide for their families by working. Al Jazeera spoke to several children who said they stopped attending classes to help their families to survive.

Zakariya Abu al-Noor, a physics and chemistry teacher for high-school pupils, said teachers in Aleppo would continue to teach despite the air strikes.

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“Today we live in a constant state of war. Our whole lives have changed – what we wear, what we eat, where we live,” he said. “I personally was in school when three air strikes took place and I was lucky, but many others were not.

“The people who really care for Syria, and I don’t mean those meeting in Geneva, have to know that we need them to help provide an education for these children and we call for protection of schools and residential areas,” Abu al-Noor said.

A girl looks up to the sky after hearing the sound of shelling at Al-Tawheed school in Aleppo [Reuters]
A girl looks up to the sky after hearing the sound of shelling at Al-Tawheed school in Aleppo [Reuters]

Rose Foley, from the UNICEF media office, told Al Jazeera that some Syrian children of school age have never started school; they do not know what a classroom looks like.

She said one in every four schools is destroyed, damaged or occupied. 

“Around 5,000 schools can no longer be used as schools because they have been bombed, destroyed, or damaged, or they’re sheltering displaced persons. Some are being used by armed groups,” Foley said.

‘Scared of going to school’

Ismail, an eighth-grade pupil, said he lost a friend when an air strike hit his school.

“He was in 7th grade and shrapnel hit his head, killing him instantly,” Ismail said.

“I get so frightened when I hear the sound of warplanes approaching. The air strikes in Aleppo target random places, mosques, schools, public places.”

He said he had always wanted to become a surgeon.

“I am not thinking of ever leaving home. I will grow up and be part of the new Syria,” he explained.

“We will rebuild it once we grow up. I hope I can live to see a Syria free of destruction and war.”

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Foley said there were more than two million children in Syria living in hard-to-reach areas, including under siege. 

“We are calling for unimpeded, unconditional and sustained access everywhere in Syria to be able to reach the most vulnerable,” she said.

In 2015, UNICEF gave access to learning material to more than a million children in Syria, including those in hard-to-reach areas, through printing and distribution of textbooks. 

The war in Syria, which is entering its sixth year in March, has left more than 250,000 people killed and displaced more than half of the country’s prewar population of 22.4 million.

Source: Al Jazeera