TEHRAN, YJC. -- The United Nations depicted the collapse of Syria’s education system in a report released on Tuesday, saying that thousands of schools have been damaged or converted into shelters for civilians displaced by civil war and that many children have not attended class since the conflict began two years ago.
The report, by Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, also said many parents were now reluctant to send their children to school, fearing for their safety, even if their school is open. In the contested northern city of Aleppo, where loyalists and insurgents have been battling since last summer, the attendance rate has dropped as low as 6 percent, the report said.
Other areas where fighting has been severe, notably Idlib in the north and Dara’a in the south, where the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad first began, are among the worst affected. "As a result, schoolchildren, are often failing to turn up for class, sometimes attending only twice a week,” Unicef said.
At least a fifth of the country’s schools have suffered direct damage, the report said, and in others where classes are still held, overcrowding has pushed class sizes to 100 students. In some areas, more than half of teachers do not report for work, it said.
The report provided a glimpse into an often overlooked deprivation confronting the civilian population, where the more basic problems of security, homelessness, hunger and illness have reached crisis levels in many places. The United Nations has estimated that at least 70,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011, nearly a million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, more than two million people are internally displaced and more than four million are in urgent need of assistance.
The Unicef assessment was conducted in December. Since then, fighting has progressively worsened, suggesting the picture could be even grimmer.
"The education system in Syria is reeling from the impact of violence,” said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, the Unicef representative in Syria. "Syria once prided itself on the quality of its schools. Now it’s seeing the gains it made over the years rapidly reversed.”
Antigovernment activists reached by phone in Syria were not surprised.
"Even in those schools that are still open, attendance is very irregular,” said Omar Abu Layla, an activist in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, another combat hotspot. "Parents worry about sending their kids to school because warplanes usually target schools where the displaced have sought refuge.”
Mr. Abu Layla said more than 75 percent of schools in the country wer now closed because of what he described as constant shelling and other threats. "We try to compensate by giving lessons in mosques or schools that haven’t been hit, but it doesn’t make a big difference,” he said.
Others said they have sought to take education into their own hands, especially in areas where schools are unsafe. In Idlib Province, for example, a group of activists has started a radio station called "Colors FM,” featuring a daily 90-minute broadcast aimed at children between the ages of 4 and 10 who have been unable to attend classes.
Ahmad Kadour, a member of the group, said the curriculum includes English, math and science. "It’s just a beginning but we will make some progress with time,” he said. "In the next stage, we are planning to buy small radios to distribute to kids so they can listen to our show.”
The main focus of fighting in Syria on Tuesday appeared to revolve around the struggle for control of the north-central city of Raqqa. Rebel fighters claimed to have occupied most of the city on Monday and captured two senior government officials there. But government forces were reported to have launched airstrikes on Tuesday in attempts to expel the rebels.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain, said on Tuesday that parts of Raqqa — a provincial capital and strategic city of about 500,000 people on the Euphrates River, 50 miles south of the border with Turkey — were "still under regime control.”