This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 5
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Inclusive education: Access and quality for Syrian children

J.R.A. Williams

Currently 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance due to a violent civil war that has lasted 6 years. Around 4.8 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.5 million are displaced within Syria, half of whom are children. Children are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited, and millions have been forced to quit school. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East: in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. In this article, Jamie Williams explains how Islamic Relief is planning inclusive education initiatives for refugee and host communities in these countries.

Provision and funding
The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for these five countries prioritises education interventions for school-age children who are currently out of school or who receive low quality education services. In April 2016, over 916,000, (56%) school-age Syrian children were out of school. Around 4 million Syrian and affected host-community children aged 5-17 years need access to safe, inclusive and quality formal and non-formal learning opportunities. World leaders at the Supporting Syria and the Region 2016 donor conference in London pledged long-term commitments to education, to avoid a lost generation of children and youth. However, there is a dramatic shortfall in countries fulfilling these pledges. Finance is needed both to fund refugee education and support investments in developing school infrastructure and wider education systems.

While maintaining the emergency education response, the donor conference urged strategic shifts towards longer-term approaches. This requires the strengthening of national education systems and promotion of national policy frameworks, as well as scaling up access and adopting a strong focus on quality education. Currently, to absorb so many Syrian students and increase response capacities, public education systems in host countries have re-introduced or expanded double shifts in overcrowded schools, negatively affecting the quality of education.

Islamic Relief and the crisis
Islamic Relief has been responding to the crisis in Syria and the region since 2012, mostly focusing on providing basic humanitarian aid. Programmes in Jordan involve conditional cash transfers to families for shelter, schooling costs and community-based catch-up education programmes for those who have missed school for long periods. In Lebanon, school feeding, kindergarten provision and teacher education activities support refugee education alongside psychosocial support. Within Syria, funding is being sought for furniture and equipment for schools serving internally displaced children and youth, transportation, vocational training, teacher development, and psycho-social support. In order for Islamic Relief to play a key role in education provision in Syria, it is important that we collaborate with existing actors like UNICEF and Save the Children to develop a role that complements their efforts in education.

Disability left behind
‘Leave No One Behind’ was one of five core themes of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. International treaties like the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities declare the right to education for all, and government and humanitarian agencies have taken steps to enrol Syrian children in school, but those with disabilities are being left behind. Reports on the situations in Jordan1 and Lebanon2 highlight how services and education provision for children with disabilities are often overlooked in efforts to include Syrian children in education, leaving them among the most invisible and vulnerable.

Consequently, Islamic Relief is now planning an advocacy campaign alongside pilot interventions to improve funding and delivery of quality education opportunities for Syrian people. This will focus on the sustained and systematic creation of safe and welcoming learning environments. It will include psychosocial support programmes in and around schools, madrassas and learning spaces, with emphasis on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, youth and adults, including those with disabilities.

Inclusion is an answer
Islamic Relief has identified inclusive education as an important focus for its Syria crisis interventions. Advocacy, awareness raising and capacity building with governments, multilateral agencies, international and national NGOs and community service organisations in Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Greece is a key part of the work. Three pilot projects will demonstrate the uses and effectiveness of inclusive education tools in three countries, offering practical, participatory and sustainable solutions to the challenges faced.

A participatory process is being used in each context to develop inclusive education provision, so that all stakeholders are involved in improving education for Syrian children. Consultations with funding partners, implementing partners, and potential advocacy allies will feed into needs analyses, from which the education programme, and a related monitoring, evaluation and learning plan, will be generated. Consultation with children, care givers and education providers is also vital at this stage, to better understand each context in terms of location, integration with host systems, language of instruction, formal and non-formal provision, etc.

Tools already exist, such as the Index for Inclusion for the Arabic World (, that facilitate and encourage self-review by education providers, schools and pre-schools, madrassas and non-formal centres of learning. The tools help them investigate their cultures (what people in these centres believe and act upon), policies (the systems and rules that they work within), and practices (what actually happens in the centres), in relation to children with disabilities and other excluded groups. These tools will be adapted, piloted and introduced to help education providers identify and prioritise the elimination of barriers to learning and participation, and plan to become more inclusive of the real needs of children, youth and adults.

Lessons learned from the pilot projects will feed into campaign messages, materials and publications. These will help us exploit advocacy opportunities to show governments and agencies how, even in very challenging contexts, a systematic approach to inclusive education can be effective in both ensuring the participation of all children in learning and play, and at the same time improving the quality of education, in terms of its relevance, appropriacy, participation, flexibility and protection.

This work is just starting, and we hope to share another article in Enabling Education Review next year, documenting the progress made and lessons learned so far.

Jamie Williams is the Senior Policy Advisor at Islamic Relief Worldwide.
Contact: jamie.williams@irworldwide

1HRW (2016) Growing Up Without an Education: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon. Washington: Human Rights Watch.

2Pertek I. (2016) Learning Brief: Gender Study – Conditional Cash Project for Vulnerable Syrian and Jordanian Children in Irbid, Jordan. Islamic Relief Worldwide: Birmingham