“Going to university is the dream of every single student here -- it is a blessing to study,” a ninth-grade Syrian student told UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, during her visit to the Zainab Bint El Rasoul public girls’ school located in Ramtha, five kilometers from the Syrian border.
The Director-General met with students, teachers, trainers and parents at this school, where a UNESCO project is helping Syrian refugee girls to cope with uprooting from their country, the loss of their homes, friends and teachers, and to find fresh hope in a learning environment that is caring and alongside their Jordanian peers.
Through the EU-funded programme, “Quality Education and Skills Development for Young Syrian Refugees in Jordan,” teachers from this school, which counts 1200 students, including 200 from Syria, have benefited from training in psycho-social skills and interactive pedagogies from the Queen Rania Teacher Academy. To date, some 2000 teachers in schools that host Syrian refugees students have benefited from this project.
“This programme has helped girls who have been psychologically affected by the conflict and enabled them to integrate with other Jordanian students,” said Ms Wisman, the school’s Principal. “It has reduced drop out among girls and decreased early marriages. And parents have become more interested in enrolling their daughters”.
Beyond the psychological dimension, the challenges of integration are multiple, from different curricula in both countries to distinct dialects and overcrowded classrooms.
“At first, we were under a lot of pressure and faced real challenges and had to mediate between Syrian and Jordanian students” said an English teacher. “The training has helped us to treat the Syrian students equally, to pay attention to their feelings and to engage them in the classroom.” A physics teacher recalled that “some Syrian students were very introverted and everything scared them. We have learnt strategies to reduce their fear, to make them feel safe and also to work in groups and encourage cooperation through playing different roles in the classroom. Teachers also now sit together to prepare lessons and share ideas.”
The Director-General commended all those involved in the programme, and expressed appreciation to the European Union and the Queen Rania Teacher Training Academy.
“You are doing an incredibly important job and carry a very difficult responsibility. At UNESCO and across the United Nations, we know how difficult it is to leave your homes and come to another country. We feel that no Syrian child should be left behind. This is particularly true for girls, because they are most vulnerable. Quality education keeps girls in schools, fights poverty and carries hugely positive benefits for families and communities and I want to assure that we will continue to support you. “
The programme also encourages teachers to work with families, many of them headed by mothers only. Teachers organize weekly meetings with parents and often go to their homes. According to one mother, whose 21-year old son remained in Syria, “after this programme, we saw a great difference in our daughters, who they like to come to school. We want our daughters to do better than us.” The school also counts a single counselor, who helps students and families adapt.
The challenges ahead remain daunting, as the refugee influx continues daily across the border. Representatives, including from the Ministry of Education, called for the programme to be expanded across the country, highlighting also the need for more schools to accommodate students. “This programme should be given to all teachers. It is not only helping to integrate students but increasing the performance of students through its interactive methodology,” said the training supervisor. He noted that lack of teacher training is an issue in the country, with many substitute teachers recruited to fill the gaps. “There are a lot of students waiting to enroll in school simply because there are not enough places,” said the Principal.
The importance of responding to rising needs can be heard in the voices and aspirations of the students.
“At first, it was very hard to be accepted and to make friends. Then things changed. Teachers do not differentiate between us and the Jordanians. We are very interested in finishing our high school and going on to university,” said one grade 9 student.
Now, students are looking towards the future. They want to be engineers, pharmacists, doctors and also teachers, as they told the Director-General as she toured an earth sciences class. This is the power of education in the making.