3 ways Jordanian teachers of refugees are going above and beyond

05 October 2021

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IIEP-UNESCO/Stephanie Bengtsson
Grade 6 students at a school in Zarqa won an award for this artwork on a window.

Now in its second decade, the Syrian refugee crisis has had a devastating impact on the lives of children and youth. However, for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have relocated to Jordan, education – and teachers – are providing new hope. Through IIEP and Education Development Trust's joint research on teacher management in refugee settings, we have discovered three ways in which Jordanian teachers are going above and beyond in supporting young refugees in their education.

Over a third of the approximately 650,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan are school aged – between 6 and 17 years old. This is around 212,000 children, all of whom are entitled to enrol in formal basic education through the Ministry of Education’s schools either in refugee camps or host communities.

Currently, UNICEF estimates that 72% of these children enrol in school – the majority in the second shift of double-shift schools in Jordanian communities, which runs from mid-day to late afternoon.

1. Supporting Syrian students in the classroom

Many of these learners carry a heavy emotional weight: they may have lost loved ones, seen their home or school destroyed, or witnessed conflict. “A student may be absent from school for two or three years,” said one teacher in the capital, Amman. “The Syrian students are disconnected from schools. It becomes very difficult for them to come back to school after so much time.”

Aware of this challenge, teachers work hard to welcome them back in the classroom. One social studies teacher spoke about navigating difficult political and historical subjects in the classroom to not upset or perhaps bring up students’ trauma. In northern Jordan, a teacher in Mafraq said that some teachers took it upon themselves to start counselling students because there was no formal school counsellor. 

Meanwhile, others described fundraising initiatives they started in order to provide financial support for Syrian families. They also mentioned events and prizes, and how they raised awareness about the value of education, particularly for girls.

2. Improving the dynamic between morning and afternoon shifts 

All learners in public schools in Jordan are taught by Jordanian nationals, but the majority of teachers working with Syrian refugees in the second shift of double-shift schools are engaged on a daily paid basis. This means that they are recruited and deployed by the Field Directorate rather than the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) and central-level Ministry of Education. Since they do not have a formal contract, they are paid only for the number of days they teach per month, and are not entitled to benefits or leave. Ordinarily, they are supposed to rotate each semester to give other daily paid teachers an opportunity to work; however, they are often employed for a longer period to encourage continuity for refugee learners. 

Principals and teachers also make many efforts to improve the dynamic between morning and afternoon shifts. For example, the principal of a double-shift boys’ school in Zarqa, a city in the northeast, made a concerted effort to mix Jordanian and Syrian students in the afternoon shift, to promote social cohesion. He felt responsible for his community, which now included Syrian students, and he shared his vision for greater compassion and inclusion with his teaching staff.

"Because of the conditions of Syrian students, with issues like war, I wanted to include other [Jordanian] students because of the humanitarian perspective. I try to encourage interaction."
- Principal of a double-shift boys’ school in Zarqa

The teachers at this school also described how they would visit each other’s classes for peer observation, on their own initiative. These types of visits suggested a certain level of trust and support among the teaching workforce. The teachers also said they were close even outside of school and were like family: “We share with each other in good times and the hard times,” said one. 

3. Twinning to share resources and school events 

At a double-shift girls’ school in Zarqa, there were many examples highlighting the potential of twinning. What this means is that everything from resources and training, to events, that were available in the morning, were also made available during the afternoon shift, and vice versa. 

"During our school visits, we saw many examples of teachers and principals acting as agents of positive school-level reform through initiatives such as “twinning” between shifts, leading to improved working conditions, social cohesion, and quality of education for Syrian learners in Jordan."
- Stephanie Bengtsson, project officer at IIEP 

For example, the principal in Zarqa made sure that teacher training sessions organized by the Field Directorate – which was reportedly only available for permanent teachers – were also provided to second-shift teachers. Similarly, the principal made sure that student parliament and art competitions were replicated for the second shift, and that donors – who were attracted to the school because of its refugee learners – would commit to this twinning approach. 

Mainstreaming this concept of twinning in all plans and strategies, as well as agreements with donors, would be an effective way of ensuring equitable distribution of resources across shifts.

Further recommendations to support teachers 

A major part of this research, funded by the European Union and Open Society Foundations, is to identify promising areas for further policy development and implementation to support effective teacher management in practice. Some of the key recommendations include:

  • Setting up a gender task force to address the shortage of male teachers,
  • Enabling daily paid teachers to be included in the ranking system,
  • Providing more flexible professional development programmes,
  • Officially making existing in-service training on psychosocial support part of continuous professional development, 
  • Regularizing one-year appointments for daily paid teachers, 
  • Including principals in teacher recruitment.

These recommendations – and more – are now available to support the further development of research-informed policy guidance for the government of Jordan and partners as part of its continued commitment to provide quality education to all. 

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