For children living in conflict zones around the world, education is often a lifeline that paves roads out of war and poverty, and can reduce the risk of being forced into work or early marriage.

Entering into its 10th year of armed conflict, Syria is facing a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. 6.2 million people, including 2.5 million children, are internally displaced - the highest number worldwide. Not to mention the mass of other problems, such as violent attacks, food shortages and, most recently, the coronavirus crisis.

Children in Syria © People in Need, 2020

Children in Syria © People in Need, 2020

Crisis after crisis

When the global pandemic was declared in spring, Syrian authorities closed schools. This was a huge blow to vulnerable families. Many rely on schools not only to provide lessons, but also to grant their children a safe space where they can develop and play, forgetting the harsh reality of war - if only briefly. Yet, without a vaccine or cure to stem the spread of the virus, the indefinite closure of schools was the only way forward.

Zsofia © People in Need, 2020

Zsofia © People in Need, 2020

Zsofia Pitcz coordinates protection and education in northern Syria for the Czech NGO, People in Need (PIN). The organisation recognised how severe the repercussions of the pandemic could be.

“The moment the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, we took rapid action to help transfer lessons online.”

Digital learning kicks off

With assistance from the EU, the Czech government and other international organisations, the People in Need team worked with Syrian teachers to develop WhatsApp-based distance learning. Lessons were recorded, then shared with students, and the NGO also hosted workshops to discuss best practices and resources about digital learning.

At first there was some concern that the students would not continue their education. However, teachers were reassured when students and their parents started joining the group chats for schooling.

“Digital learning became an opportunity to acquire new skills, be more creative, and to develop new techniques and ideas,” says Abul-Rahman, an Arabic teacher of 120 students.

Once the parents and children were on board, the number of pupils in each distance learning group increased. Teachers have been satisfied with the progress so far, and students have also shown their enthusiasm about Syria’s digital transition.

E-learning in Syria © People in Need, 2020

E-learning in Syria © People in Need, 2020

“Learning over the internet is a bit more difficult than in the classroom. Still, it is much better than sitting at home and doing nothing,” says 14-year-old Hussein.

Among the 15,500 children that People In Need have helped in Syria, 85% regularly participated in the distance learning programme, as data from May 2020 shows. And over recent months, schools have been mixing online classes and in-person teaching.

“Students come to school to receive the most basic lessons and then we follow up online. One of the benefits is that the children can meet and socialise, even if we have to continuously remind them to keep their social distance,” remarks Souad, a teacher in north-west Syria.

Classroom learning in Syria © People in Need, 2020

Classroom learning in Syria © People in Need, 2020

EU support for Syria

With the right to education being recognised as fundamental, the EU is committed to supporting children in crisis zones and empowering them with the necessary knowledge, skills and values to develop into adulthood.

And, when a global crisis strikes, the EU is there to help vulnerable populations around the world. The virus knows no borders and, in the long-term, we will only recover thanks to partnership and solidarity.

“It makes me really happy to be able to contribute to the provision of quality education for girls and boys in northern Syria through an EU-funded project,” says Zsofia from People in Need.