(Amman) – Jordan’s education minister has instructed public schools to allow Syrian children to register in the fall semester even if they lack government-issued documents that were previously required, Human Rights Watch said today. Carrying out this and other announced policy changes could help thousands more children attend school this semester.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan have been unable to obtain or to update documents called service cards, which are issued to Syrians by Jordan’s Interior Ministry and are required for Syrian children to enroll in public schools. Human Rights Watch interviewed Syrian children in 2015 and 2016, who had been unable to go to school because they lacked the cards.
Human Rights Watch attended a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)-sponsored meeting on August 16, 2016, at which the education minister and other ministry officials notified district-level staff of new policies on school enrollment, including the relaxed documentation requirements.
Other plans include doubling the number of schools operating “double shifts” to create spaces for up to 50,000 more Syrian students, and establishing a “catch-up” program to reach another 25,000 children ages 8 to 12, who have been out of school for three or more years. Jordanian regulations that preceded the Syria conflict had barred all children who were three or more years behind their age cohort from enrolling.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch identified lack of service cards and the “three-year rule” as among the policy barriers that have prevented many Syrian children from receiving an education in Jordan. Jordanian nongovernmental groups have opened unaccredited, informal schools to reach these children.
More than 83,000 Syrian refugee children were not in formal education during the last school year – 68,000 of them in Jordanian towns and cities and the rest in refugee camps – according to UN data that the Education Ministry presented on August 16. About 50,000 of these children have been out of school for more than three years. Half of them are between the ages of 8 and 12 and are eligible for the new catch-up program. The other half are 13 and over, but may enroll in another accredited, informal program operated by Questscope, a nongovernmental organization.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are estimated to be ineligible for service cards, because they left refugee camps informally after Jordan began to enforce strict camp-exit requirements. If these children are required to present the cards to stay in school in the spring 2017 semester, they will have to drop out. The Education Ministry should extend its generous waiver throughout the school year and beyond.
There are also limited spaces available for children over 13 who have been out of school for three or more years. The relatively small Questscope program for this age group has reached only a few thousand Syrian children. It is expanding with donor support, but capacity will still fall far short of the 25,000 Syrian children in this age group who have been out of school for three or more years. More educational opportunities are critically important for these children, whose enrollment rates decline dramatically.
The largest obstacle to education for many Syrian families is poverty. Jordan has improved policies that prevented many Syrian refugees from supporting themselves through work and has issued more than 20,000 work permits to Syrian refugees this year, but at least 160,000 are believed to work informally. Impoverished parents are often unable to pay school-related costs like transportation, since there are no public school busses.
Under the Education Ministry’s new plans, Syrian children will not necessarily be enrolled at the school where they register if those schools are overcrowded. But if children are enrolled at distant schools, they may be unable to afford transportation, and longer distances may be an insurmountable barrier for children with disabilities. The Education Ministry, with support from donors and UN agencies, should ensure that children are enrolled in schools that they can reach.
“Donors and other Jordanian officials should support the Education Ministry’s efforts to get all children on Jordanian soil into school,” Van Esveld said. “The ministry’s plans should benefit thousands more Syrian children this year, but for many, the lack of access to school is still an ongoing crisis.”