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Education in Syria Webcast

March 29, 2017


This webcast on the situation of education in Syria, especially in Dara’a, Idlib, and Aleppo featured a review of the literature carried out by RTI for USAID in late 2016. The content and discussion focus on three important issues:

  • The key inputs that make an education system function.
  • The education delivery systems inside Syria (how they differ in Syrian-government-controlled areas, Syrian-Interim-Government-(SIG)-controlled areas, and other areas under the control of ISIS or unknown actors).
  • The international community’s response to the crisis.


Learn more about the literature findings by accessing the research brief here.


Nina Etyemezian is the director of program development and strategy for RTI’s International Education Division, where she has been since 2014. She is native to the Levant, has worked on education, gender, and youth throughout the Middle East and North Africa region, including as the Education and Gender Advisor for USAID/Morocco. Nina has an EdM in International Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Chris Capacci Carneal is an education development officer in USAID’s Middle East Bureau. She has been with USAID since 2004. Prior to USAID, Carneal worked with Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children in their Sahel Field Office.  She has a PhD in International Development Education from Florida State University.


Jim Rogan is Senior Advisor to USAID’s Education in Conflict and Crisis Network (ECCN), and is Principal and Owner of Exterion LLC, an international development consulting firm. He is a peacebuilding and governance specialist, and has worked on education in conflict and crisis for nearly 10 years. He has held senior management positions with the UN and the private sector. His last role was as Chief of Peacebuilding and Recovery for UNICEF in New York. He holds a BSFS from Georgetown University and an MA in International Political Economy from the University of Chicago.

Syria Webcast Questions and Answers

Josh Josa: Do you have a sense of how social inclusion factors (disability and gender) are being integrated into the proposed education frameworks?

I can’t say we looked at that particularly and the data was limited. What we found in this context is that physical and psychological disability is on the rise because of what is happening on the ground. When I speak on the psycho-social support, it’s very much about that but also extending to children who had disabilities before. Gender in the recent past in the Levant has not been that much of an issue in the recent past, but the economic situation has caused an increase in child marriage. The issue with child marriage is that parents feel if they marry off some or at least one of their daughters, the daughters are secure with someone who has a better income and may be able to survive the conflict.

In terms of what is going on in the classroom, we aren’t seeing much difference in who is dropping out and staying. Except for the boys at the secondary level, which has economic- and conflict-related roots.

Kyle Freedman: As part of this review and your current understanding of the education system in Syria, was there analysis of non-formal learning centers and institutions that have resulted from the crisis and if so, what do these look like?

There wasn’t specifically a review of non-formal school programs but some of the schools referred to in the research are in a non-formal setting. In some ways, it is hard to tell what is formal and non-formal. I guess if education is happening in a school, it is formal, but there is so much happening that is going on in peoples’ homes and supported by NGOs. It does seem that a lot of what is going on is in the non-formal sector, and curriculum and teacher training are variable.

Moderator: Did anything come through that surprised you, or what were the main things in any of these territorial areas that were helping these schools ‘get by’? You mentioned NGO support and international activities, but what were the areas of assets that help these schools weather the amount of risk that is thrust on them.

It does make you wonder. It seems that the closer the school is to the community in its structure and delivery, the more success and longevity that delivery system has. For example, in some of the locations, outside of the government of Syria-controlled areas, school is being administered from the local councils and they are being more successful. The community is coming together to support the entire process. This does require a closer look on the ground level.

Moslem Shah: If possible, could you please provide further details about how volunteers organize themselves in providing classes? Is it done individually in each community or does a bigger body organize the services in a non-formal setting?

This is done in different ways. Some people are just in the community and want to see services delivered to that community. Civil society and NGOs, some of which have grown out of conflict, want to provide services as best they can, not just in education. Fellow Syrians are probably the most active in providing relief efforts in a volunteer system.

Yolande Miller Grandvaux: To what extent does the funding for education come from controversial/religious/radicalized sources?

We looked very hard for this information, but it was very hard to find. One presumes that in other areas where more radical religious groups are present the funding comes from illicit means. So, for opposition controlled areas, some of it is donor supported and some of it is supported by allies. We tried to find answer to this question as USAID was very interested in this question, but this wasn’t something you could find in the literature. If you want to dig deeper, you would probably need to go there and ask these questions.

Zillur Siddiki: Are there any initiatives on unified accelerated curriculum for the system?

There are accelerated initiatives but they don’t seemed to be unified. Part of the issue with ‘unified’ is that boundaries keep moving. So, what is used becomes less relevant. It is a very fluid environment. If you look at other contexts, it is usually controlled by one entity, but in this context there are a lot of players in this space. In some instances there are micro-players in micro-spaces. It makes it difficult to reach consensus. Something organic may be happening at the field level.

Zeina: How valid do you believe the pre-conflict statistics from the government of Syria are? We have seen very high percentages of children without basic literacy and numeracy skills which do not follow a 90% enrollment rate pattern.

Enrollment doesn’t mean you are learning, it just means you are there. The enrollment rates may be off a bit but I do have an intuitive sense that most went to school. Whether students learned the minimum competences or not is unclear. The data we have is from the government EMIS system, which is probably relatively on track.

Michele Bradford: You've talked about lack of data. What is your read on the quality of the data? What does the EMIS cover? How timely and accurate are the data?

The data is an issue in the sense that it is spotty. There is less reliable data for opposition controlled areas and practically not reliable data for other areas. The most reliable data comes from the government of Syria as they have a system, they have EMIS and they continued the operations they had. Much of the question is, how much of their EMIS is spot-on? I don’t know given the conditions. The SIG does not have a system but they are trying to build this, including assessments if the situation allows. It seems the data would be ‘okay’ to very unreliable and this was a struggle for this project. We did have some reliable data from the UNICEF regional office in Damascus and the assistance coordination unit out of Gaziantep.

Uraidah: Is there an understanding at least among NGOs that their programs must include a psycho-social support component?

From the State Department, a lot of the NGOs are beginning to incorporate this, speaking more towards activities in Aleppo and Idlib. We’ve seen small community activities be very successful in addressing some of the needs and getting the community involved in various activities. This is starting but a work in progress.

Moderator: You’ve commissioned the report with very interesting findings. Can USAID speak to how this will inform work and broaden understanding moving forward?

USAID has support for humanitarian assistance based in Amman, and we do partner a lot with State Department colleagues, mainly in Turkey. We do provide some support to education directorates, teacher training, trying to keep classrooms in teachable conditions, and addressing some psycho-social issues. However, we are very interested in bridging this humanitarian work to more development activities. As this crisis has gone on and on and on, we realized to only do humanitarian assistance is not enough. We are using a study like this to further our thinking. If the timing is right and funding comes through, this type of work helps us think through how we could provide more solid education programming inside Syria. This is to be determined at this point.

Zeina: Was there any special attention given to the Kurdish-controlled areas? Were they still considered as part of SIG? While we know they are not, they operate independently and run their own curricula and educational systems.

No, we didn’t look at these areas for this study.

Zeina: Also, you mentioned not sharing the report because it has sensitive interviews. Are/were there any attempts to still share the findings with the local relevant stakeholders (local councils, local NGOs, etc.) to feed into their processes of building and developing their programming?

We haven’t done that yet but do need to do that. We particularly need to circulate the smaller summary.

Michele Bradford: Were you able to undertake any reviews or spot checks of the curricula in use?


Yolande Miller Grandvaux: To what extent are donors coordinated? In terms of educational approaches, content, geographic, etc.?

From the State Department, just recently over the past year or so on the donor level we’ve been able to coordinate to ensure we aren’t duplicating efforts and layer projects with other donors. Most of the work we’ve done in education has been in Aleppo and Idlib. We are looking to expand this work.

Unanswered Question

Question (from Hank Healey): What is happening in Syrian education now is a miracle; the key is to figure out how those miracles happened (to identify the driving forces behind them) and strive to keep those forces in place as well as replicate them elsewhere.

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