Jordan’s education system strained by Syrian refugees

Elusive dreams. Syrian refugee children between the ages of 6 and 12 line up in a classroom for a lesson in summer school in Amman, last July. (AP)

2017/11/12 Issue: 131 Page: 20

The Arab Weekly
Roufan Nahhas

Amman - Jordan is in dire need of re­viewing and upgrading its weary education system, which has been further strained by taking Syrian ref­ugee students into public schools.

A report by the World Bank stated that a new system in education was needed in Jordan to improve learn­ing outcomes and raise the level of qualified teachers and institutions.

“This is a very realistic report that stresses the fact that one of the main challenges we are facing is low access to quality elementary educa­tion. There is a need to prepare stu­dents from an early age to higher education standards,” said Hiyam Jamil, a public school teacher.

“There are many other challeng­es affecting teachers and schools,” she said. “Better salaries, bet­ter training and a better environ­ment are needed. If the teacher is well-equipped and satisfied, it will be beneficial to students and the whole system.”

The report said Jordanian teach­ers are unprepared because they re­ceive insufficient pre-service train­ing that leaves them ill-equipped to teach specific subjects.

In South Shouneh, in the Jor­dan Valley, Al-Rawda Basic Mixed School has more than 500 students and receives almost 100 new stu­dents per year, most of whom are from Syria. That has forced the ad­ministration to resort to two shifts at the school.

The World Bank report said Jor­dan hosts 660,582 registered Syr­ian refugees, of which 232,868 are school-aged children requiring educational services. As of last June, approximately 10% of chil­dren in public schools were Syrian refugees. A government census said around 1.265 million Syrians lived in Jordan in 2016.

An estimated 80% of refugees live in host communities, repre­senting 10% of Jordan’s population of 9.5 million in 2016. The rest live in refugee camps, such as Zaatari in Mafraq.

Esra’ Abbas, 13, a Syrian student who attends a public school in Ir­bid in northern Jordan, said: “I am happy to join the school here as I want to continue my studies away from the war in my country. Soon, I will leave for Sweden as a refugee and continue my dream.”

Education has been the focus of Jordanian Queen Rania, who openly expressed dissatisfaction with the educational system and the country’s general secondary education examination (Tawjihi) at the National Strategy for Human Resource Development conference in 2016.

She noted that of the 100,000 students who were registered in 12th grade in 2015, only 60,000 sat for the secondary certificate exam and only 40% of those passed. That means that less than 25% of 12th grade students will graduate.

Results from 2016 showed a simi­lar pattern. Newspapers carried shocking headlines such as: “Not a single student from 300 schools has passed!” In one case, a blank Tawji­hi exam paper was submitted with the only comment written on it by the examination hall supervisor: “The student is almost illiterate. He cannot read or write properly!”

“A student spent 12 years in our schools and did not learn how to read and write!” an outraged Queen Rania was quoted as saying.

The World Bank report said 20% of students in second grade could not read a single word from a pas­sage and nearly half were unable to solve a single subtraction problem.

A total of 125,378 Jordanian stu­dents and 3,214 Syrian students sat for the Tawjihi summer session in 2017. Around 81% of schools in which no students passed the offi­cial exam were in rural areas, the Ministry of Education said.

Refugees are not the only chal­lenge facing the country’s public education system. The influx of Jordanian students from private to public schools is increasing at an alarming rate due to soaring private school fees.

“We cannot afford to pay for pri­vate schools anymore as one child costs around $5,000 per year,” said a father of three who requested anonymity. “On top of the fees, you have books, uniforms, stationery, etc… We finally decided to shift them to public school to continue their studies… It was a very hard decision but we were forced to do so.”

Jordan has 1,100 private schools, including 550 in Amman.

The World Bank report said that while most Syrian refugee children have access to education services in Jordan, they face the same chal­lenges that disadvantaged Jorda­nian children do.

The accommodation of thou­sands of refugees in the education system has slowed efforts by the Ministry of Education to improve quality and manage the system more efficiently, the report added.

Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.

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