Child education at a Syrian refugee camp

By Halsho Abdulfatah:

Children huddle against the cold in their refugee school tent and speak with  Hashlo

Children huddle against the cold in their refugee school tent and speak with Hashlo

Amoda Primary School is 20 kilometres from Slemani and accommodates 355 Syrian refugee children aged six to fourteen at the Arbot refugee camp. This is a fraction of the total number of children at the camp who need education. The school is managed by the Education Department of Slemani Directorate (EDSD) which has appointed the school’s teachers and chosen the curriculum. It comprises several tents pitched inside an abandoned warehouse, with no playground or proper heating.

The pupils had language issues when the curriculum was Iraqi (Arabic), but this has recently been changed to the Syrian curriculum. Apart from three Kurdish language teachers and the headmaster, the remaining 16 teachers are themselves refugee camp residents from Rojava (North Syria).

The school has ten overcrowded classes in five tents, divided into two shifts: years one to four attend school from 08:00 to 12:00; and years five to nine attend in the afternoon.

Two pupil walking around the tents memorising dialogue given for the next lesson

Two pupils walking around the tents memorising dialogue given for the next lesson

Headmaster Sharif is originally from Halabja and he has dealt with refugee children previously. His rich background in education has been acknowledged by the EDSD and his positive attitude is contagious.

Headmaster Sharif

Headmaster Sharif

“As you can see”, he told KT, “the school environment is tents, and it’s our main challenge to replace it with cabinets. This is because we cannot use oil heaters for safety reasons and the electric radiators are not enough to keep the tents warm. I have noticed that the pupils are enduring a bitter cold and it pains me when I cannot do much about it other than letting the responsible parties know. Only last Thursday I saw a year one pupil shivering during his class, I brought him into the teachers’ tent and gave him my coat till he was warm.”

Sharif added: “Despite these issues, the children are in good spirits, we have a very minimal number of those who are absent or quit school.”

KT understands that the headmaster has made several requests for equipment and the replacement of tents with cabinets but these were turned down, despite the fact that health service professionals, security guards and even grocery shops in the camp are all placed in cabinets.

Mohammed, a camp resident and teacher at the school, claims his pupils have been affected by the lack of equipment and cold weather. “They cannot learn or think when they are cold, when they lack a playground during the breaks. We have exams coming in January; I doubt they would be able to write anything in the cold.”

Teacher Mohammed fixing a broken desk for the pupils with a screwdriver before starting his class

Teacher Mohammed fixing a broken desk for the pupils before starting his class

Nasrin Basam is an eleven year old girl from Rojava who fled Syria with her family and now lives in the Arbat Refugee Camp. She attends school four hours a day at fifth grade. Nasrin said: “Our classrooms aren’t warm, we are constantly shivering during lessons.”

Two pupils studying in one of the tents

Two pupils studying

A lack of equipment has made it difficult for the pupils to learn, although several children we spoke to described their teachers as ‘friendly and helpful’.

Pupil emerges from a school tent

Pupil emerges from class

Shapol Osman is responsible for the Slemani province immigration. He claims the education equipment is UNICEF’s responsibility, but that his department provides what it can to the refugee children. Osman said: “Aside from day to day monitoring of the refugee children, we provide them necessary equipment as much as we can.” But he admitted: “According to the foreign organisations, we have breached the international standard!”

Arbat Refugee Camp is temporarily built on 300,000 square metres of land. It has approximately 2,700 inhabitants, most of whom are from around Qamishlli, Syria. It has one health centre and one school.

Wrapped up inside a tent

Wrapped up inside a school tent

Copyright © 2013

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