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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

EiE Crisis Spotlight: Syria

Last updated December 2016
As the crisis in Syria enters its seventh year, children continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. Two decades of investment in education have been wiped out. Six years of conflict have tripled the proportion of Syrian children out of school from 0.9 million (14 per cent) in the 2011/12 school year to 2.8 million (40 per cent) in the 2014/15 school year. Many Syrian school-age children have never seen the inside of a classroom and those in school continue to be at risk of dropping out. Syrian children have been deprived of their childhood along with their right to education.

2016 in Numbers 

13,500,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance 

974,080 people besieged in Syria as of 1 November, 2016
147% increase in the number of besieged civilians over the past year
6.3 million people internally displaced
4.8 million people forced to leave Syria

150,000 education personnel killed since the crisis began
4 decades by which Syria's development has regressed
4 inter-agency convoys able to deliver aid accross lines in November 2016 



Throughout the fall of 2016 fighting escalated as Syrian government forces with Russian support increased bombardment of Aleppo. The first weeks of December have brought overwhelming destruction and terror to those remaining, particularly in east Aleppo. By December 13th only Seif Dawleh, Salah Eddin, and pockets of Al Sokari and Al Amriyeh remained under non-state armed group control. Since the last week of November, over 39,250 IDPs arrived and were registered to shelter facilities in areas under government control, the majority of them moving on to other locations. The UN estimates that at least 50,000 have been displaced from east Aleppo, with over 700,000 people in besieged areas beyond east Aleppo whom humanitarian actors have little or no access to. Though evacuations have been initiated, monitored by the UN and conducted by the ICRC and the World Health Organization, they have been consistently halted by disagreement and violence between armed groups. 

Location of Crisis

The conflict has occured nationwide. in 2015 IS made territorial gains mainly in the North. Other armed opposition forces held territory primarily in Dara in the south, and in the northwest, in Idleb and Aleppo governorates. Jabhat al Nusra (JAN), linked to Al Qaedais, increasingly consolidated its control in the northwest. As a result, 11 million people were displaced, including 7.6 million internally diplaced and over 3.2 million who have sought asylum in neighboring countries and beyond.

As 2016 comes to a close, IS controls much of the east, and opposition forces remain in pockets within Dimashq, Dar'a and Idlib provinces. The Syrian Government holds much of the west including Homs, Damascus, and since November has increasingly consolidated it's control of Aleppo. 

Damascas and Allepo continue to see some of the highest numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPS). The largest number of refugees are found in the countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Timing and Description of Crisis

The conflict began in March 2011 with the outbreak of anti-government protests. The government responded with violence and opposition forces began to form armed organizations. Gradually, the situation turned into armed rebellion and then full-fleged civil war. In 2012, the rise of Jabhat al Nusra (JAN), linked to Al Qaeda, led to decreasing Western support for the Syrian opposition. In the same year, the government withdrew forces from the Kurdish areas in northern Syria and  Syrian Kurds took control of these zones, aiming to secure control over predominantly ethnic Kurdish areas in northern and eastern Syria. In 2013, Islamic State (IS) presence in Syria increased, and fighting between opposition groups grew.

© OCHA/Atiqul Hassan 2013
Damaged buildings in Homs
Throughout 2014, IS made large territorial gains in Syria taking over almost a third of the country, primarily in the north. IS took full control of Ar-Raqqa governorate in October 2014, continuing to fight government forces as well armed Syrian opposition groups. Massive human rights abuses, war crimes, and large-scale ethnic cleansing have been committed by IS. Other armed opposition forces hold territory primarily in Dara in the south, and in the northwest, in Idleb and Aleppo governorates. As 2015 closed JAN [Jabhat al Nusra, linked to Al Qaeda] increasingly consolidated its control in the northwest, which was previously held by the collapsing moderate opposition. Meanwhile, mainstream Islamist groups began to strengthen relations with JAN." 

2016 saw an increase in violence and hostilities particularly as fighting in Aleppo escalated in November. By mid December it is estimated that non-state-armed groups control only 5 percent of east Aleppo, Syrian government forces, aided by Russian support swiftly gaining territory through constant bombardment. 

Throughout the conflict, the Syrian government has maintained that it is fighting terrorism. 

Affected Populations

For up-to-date details, visit the Whole of Syria Education Focal Point website -

As the crisis in Syria enters its seventh year, children continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. Two decades of investment in education have been wiped out. Six years of conflict have tripled the proportion of Syrian children out of school from 0.9 million (14 per cent) in the 2011/12 school year to 2.8 million (40 per cent) in the 2014/15 school year. Many Syrian school-age children have never seen the inside of a classroom and those in school continue to be at risk of dropping out. Syrian children have been deprived of their childhood along with their right to education. IS areas are particularly hard to reach. The government has also restricted access in areas of Lattakia, Hama, and Idleb that are under its control. 

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. According to UNOCHA, 13.5 million people require humanitarian attention, including 4.9 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. Over half the population has been forced from their homes, with many having been displaced multiple times. On average, 6,150 people were displaced per day between January and August of 2016. Neighboring countries have increasingly restricted admission of those fleeing Syria and thus hundreds of thousands are now stranded on their borders, in some cases beyond reach of humanitarian actors.

With children and youth comprising over half of the displaced population this conflict's impact on education is overwhelming.  

© UNICEF 2015
UNICEF Report "Syria Crisis and Fact Sheet: Five Years of Conflict and Crisis"


Impact on Education

Inside Syria, five years into the crisis, 2.1 million Syrian children were out of school and one in four schools had been either damaged, destroyed, or were being used as shelter or for military purposes. Lack of learning spaces is compounded with a shortage of qualified teaching staff and learning materials, makeshift curricula lacking any educational underpinning and the uncertainty over examinations and recognition of certificates. If children do not return to school, the loss of human capital formation due to the increased dropout from school could reach US$10.7 billion, or 17.7 per cent of Syria’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010.

According to Save the Children, CfBT Education Trust (CfBT), and the American Institutes for Research (AIR)'s "The Cost of War: Calculating the Impact of the Collapse of Syria's Education System on Syria's Future," almost all of Syria’s children were enrolled in primary school and literacy rates were at 95% for 15-24 year-olds prior to the start of the conflict. Four years into the conflict, almost three million children are no longer in school and Syria is now estimated to have one of the lowest enrolment rates in the world.

Within Syria, enrollment rates have fallen from almost 100% to an average of 50%. In Aleppo, enrollment rates are closer to 6%. Over a quarter of the schools have been damaged, destroyed, used for military purposes or occupied by displaced people. Others are deserted as parents keep their children at home and out of school for fear of bombings and arbitrary attacks. Schools are amongst the most dangerous places in Syria as a result of continued attacks or damaged sustained in the fighting. In addition to the lack of suitable, safe school buildings there is also a shortage of trained teachers, with over 52,000 having left the education system since the beginning of the conflict. This, coupled with a lack of access to text books and other teaching equipment, is impacting the quality of education available to children in Syria.

For school-aged children who have managed to excape the country and are living as refugees in outside countries, almost half are not receiving any form of education. In Lebanon, which hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, as of early 2016 78% of children were out of school. For those who are able to access some sort of education, unfamiliar curricula, language barriers, overcrowding and discrimination against children from Syria have become great barriers to learning. According to "The Cost of War," "The majority of refugee children live outside formal camps and in host communities or informal settlements making heir access to education is thwarted by the already limited capacity of the public education systems in host countries and the acute financial pressures their families are facing. For refugee families who have lost everything, the pressure to earn money can force young people into child labour and early marriage, taking them out of school and making them less likely to ever return."

The conflict will have direct and indirect consequences for Syria's future. Within "The Cost of War" it is estimated that direct costs of replacing damaged, destroyed or occupied schools and lost school equipment could be as high as £2 billion ($3 billion). Additionally, the long-term impact on Syria’s economy of 2.8 million Syrian children never returning to school could be as much as 5.4% of GDP, which equates to almost £1.5 billion ($2.18 billion).

Education actors responding to the crisis

  • Al-Fanar Media
  • Amel International
  • Association of Volunteers in International Service
  • Caritas
  • Cooperative Housing Foundation International
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Finn Church Aid
  • International Orthodox Christian Charities
  • International Organization for Migration
  • International Relief & Development
  • Japan Emergency NGO
  • Jordan Hashemite charity organization
  • Japan International Cooperation Agency
  • Lutheran World Federation - World Service
  • Mercy Corps
  • Ministry of Education – Jordan
  • Mouvement Social
  • Noor Al Hussein Foundation
  • Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Quandil
  • Questscope
  • Relief International
  • The Resource Center for the Displaced Balamand Lebanon
  • Rehablitation, Education And Community's Health
  • RET
  • Save the Children
  • SAWA Lebanon
  • Un Ponte Per
  • War Child Holland
  • World Food Programme
  • World Vision International

Needs and Challenges

© Rene Wildangel / Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung 2012
Syrian children in the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan, collect water.
More than 2.6 million children are out of schools in Syria and in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The protracted nature of the Syria crisis has weakened the capacity of the education systems to address the education rights and needs of Syrian children and adolescents. While host governments and international agencies have extended considerable efforts to provide education for Syrian children, the magnitude of the crisis has made any response inadequate. Children’s right to education is being denied. 

According to the UNICEF Syrian Education Fact Sheet, the following are some of the challenges encountered for implimenting education within Syria and host countries:

  • Learning Spaces-Inside Syria, over 20% of school are damaged, destroyed, adapted as shelters or occupied by armed forces. Risks of attack, looting, abduction and military use of schools are high. Outside Syria, refugee children are mostly in over-crowded and under-resourced schools. Learning spaces are limited, expensive and not adequately equipped.
  • Teachers- Inside Syria, the country has lost around 20% of teaching staff and school counsellors. Outside Syria, Syrian teachers are not legally allowed to teach (Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon) or recieve few incentives/salaries for teaching (Iraq and Turkey).
  • Language and certification- Language is a major learning barrier to formal education in Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, and to a lesser degree Egypt. Almost 200,000 Syrian children are recieving education in non-formal settings, using differnet content and curricula without proper accredidation.
  • Host Communities- Vulnerable children in host communities are getting less educational resources because of the surge of the demand for education services. School environments are hostile, discriminator and exclusionary, and mechanisms to support Syrian students are weak or lacking. 

Tools and Resources

The following key INEE resources in English and Arabic can be used to support EiE efforts in Syria.

  • INEE Minimum Standards Handbook (English, Arabic)
  • Guidance on Conflict Sensitive Education (English)
  • Guidance Notes on Teaching and Learning (English, Arabic)
  • Guidance Notes on Teacher Compensation (English, Arabic)
  • Guidance Notes on Safe School Construction (English, Arabic)
  • Pocket Guide to Gender (English, Arabic)
  • Pocket Guide to Inclusive Education (English, Arabic)
  • Pocket Guide to Supporting Learners with Disabilities (English)
  • Guidance on HIV in Education in Emergencies (English)
  • Reference Guide on External Education Financing (English, Arabic)
  • To access other EiE tools and resources in over 20 languages, please visit the INEE Toolkit.


Key Information Sources/ Resources



Key Words

Civil war, refugees and internally displaces persons, safe learning environments, armed conflict


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