Few groups are as vulnerable, as full of potential or as in need of support as the Palestine refugee children of Syria. Of the 460,000 Palestine refugees currently in Syria, more than a third (about 184,000) are children. Education has provided hope for successive generations of Palestine refugees, which makes it all the more critical for UNRWA to ensure education continues in the midst of the ongoing crisis.
UNRWA taught 39,600 Palestine refugee students throughout Syria in the first half of 2014, adjusting its education programme due to the conflict. To make up for the loss of schools that were either destroyed or converted to shelters for displaced people, UNRWA ran double shifts in its 42 operational school buildings and held classes in 43 government schools during the afternoon, after the government classes had finished for the day. UNRWA also set up teaching points with volunteers, and negotiated to help students in besieged areas take their national exams.
UNRWA provided food, small cash stipends and accommodation to about 120 grade nine students who were able to exit the besieged Yarmouk Camp for the duration of their exams. Grade nine exams are an important milestone that mark the end of primary education in Syria. A grade nine student who asked to remain unnamed said, “UNRWA helped us to get out of the camp to continue our grade nine study and prepare to take the national exam. UNRWA staff helped us to be here and to ultimately complete our high school degrees.”
Exam results for UNRWA students in Syria continued to be above the national average, with a pass rate of 84 per cent for those taking their grade nine exams, compared with a national pass rate of 74 per cent. Pass rates for grades one to eight also remained higher than the national average, at 95 per cent. UNRWA provided remedial classes this spring for students who did not pass their exams, and a summer learning programme in preparation for make-up examinations in August.
UNRWA educated 67,000 students in Syria before the crisis and the Agency is committed to providing the children who have been missing out on school with access to education. The Agency thanks EuropeAid for its generous contribution towards this end. New books for students of all grades, funded exclusively through EuropeAid donations, arrived mid-August in preparation for the new school year.
EuropeAid has donated EUR 15.9 million (US$ 21.9 million) to UNRWA since 2011, helping the Agency sustain and adapt critical services, and meet the challenges posed by four years of sustained conflict in Syria. Through its generosity, EuropeAid affords not only a future for Palestine refugee students through education, but also a solid ground on which to stand in the present.