A second chance: Syrian refugees in Jordan

29 June 2019

Nearly half of the 650,000 registered Syrians who have fled war to live in Jordan are children. The vast majority reside in urban areas and over 85% live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. In this difficult context, the Ministry of Education is working relentlessly to give all residents of Jordan a chance to flourish. 

In this interview with the Ministry of Education in Jordan, Dr Najwa Alqubelat, Director of the Planning and Educational Research Directorate, Dr Yousef Abu Al-Shaer, Manager of Educational Research Directorate, and Dr Adnan Al-Omari, Researcher, discuss deep-seated challenges as well as the range of initiatives in place to provide learning opportunities for everyone. 

What is the state of refugee education in Jordan today, and especially at the secondary level? 

Despite limited resources and capabilities, the Ministry of Education has been committed to providing educational services to all children in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Over the past few decades, the education system’s response to the influx of refugees from neighbouring countries has become a burden on the system’s infrastructure, exposing its limitations, depleting human and material resources, and affecting the quality of the educational services offered to students. However, to enable the educational system in Jordan to best respond to displacement, and ensure quality education for refugees, the Ministry of Education has cooperated with partners and supporters of the right of displaced Syrian children in Jordan to access education in line with international agreements. Accordingly, Jordan has provided free education and financial incentives to displaced individuals, in order to address the issue of students dropping out due to financial limitations, as well as having facilitated the formal procedures for accepting non-Jordanian students into Jordanian schools to integrate them with Jordanian students. The Ministry also adopted a double-shift system after classrooms had reached full capacity during normal school hours, and opened schools in refugee camps to offer quality education to refugees. Other than dealing with the issue of dropping out because of financial reasons, the education system and its supporting parties have been keen to provide all possible opportunities – across academic, professional, and vocational subjects – to refugees so that they receive the highest quality of secondary education services despite the many obstacles.

What have been the main measures undertaken by the Ministry? 

Jordan's Ministry of Education has worked closely with international organizations to provide Syrian refugee children with education through initiatives to integrate refugees into the education system and to give them the right to learn. The Ministry of Education has also made significant changes to its strategic education plans, partnering with many organizations to expand access to formal education through the establishment of schools in refugee camps and adding more school places through a double-shift system. Compensatory coursework and lectures are also available to help refugees make up for missed school time, and support is provided to help facilitate the registration of undocumented students in schools. Other initiatives include providing free textbooks to students in distress, launching public information campaigns to encourage enrolment in schools, hiring and training temporary teachers (on labour contracts) to meet demand, and providing teachers with specific training on how to help students in difficult situations. These initiatives, along with other measures taken by the Ministry and with the support of international bodies including IIEP, have brought in the relevant ministries and national institutions and have consolidated efforts both to integrate refugee students into education and to provide them with more opportunities for formal education.

What are some of the biggest challenges? 

The massive influx of refugees into Jordan in recent decades has led to an increase in the demand for educational services. This has created a number of challenges, including some students missing the opportunity to receive quality formal education. The Ministry is keen to provide learning opportunities for all resident individuals, including refugees, in Jordan so that they can obtain quality education in line with the Government's objectives to promote a knowledge economy. Given the context at the time, the schooling infrastructure and absorptive capacity were among the most important challenges that hindered the realization of efforts to provide learning opportunities for all. Issues that had to be addressed included the high density of students in schools, as well as the difficulties of setting up a large number of rented schools and constructing and providing continuous maintenance to new schools that take into account the needs of students, including those with special needs. Another challenge was that students drop out of formal education for economic reasons and enter the labour market due to the lack of financial incentives for students to stay in school. Information on out-of-school individuals and on the number of refugees in Jordan at specific times is also scarce. These issues are hampering the Ministry’s efforts to build secondary education programmes and provide educational specializations that take into account the labour market’s needs, and to put in place optimal strategic planning by ensuring adequate human resources, infrastructure, and financing.

What is the difference between education for those in refugee camps and for those integrated into the education system outside camps? 

There is no difference in the educational services provided in the schools located in the camps and those located outside the camps. The schools were divided into categories; those located in the camps, those offering double shifts, and those offering one morning shift, to facilitate the appropriate support and funding for each type of school. The teachers appointed to camp schools are given contracts (not under a fixed-term) after receiving training. The schools offering double shifts are often located in cities or villages depending on the number of refugees residing in the area in order to accommodate the large numbers of refugee and Jordanian students. The double shift schools’ teachers are hired with contracts. The duration of the class period is shortened, and schools are open on Saturdays. Having said that, it must be emphasized that there is no difference in the quality of education provided in the schools located in the camps and those located elsewhere that host Syrian students. The way the support is appropriated depends on how many Syrians are present in a certain area. The Ministry also worked to facilitate the admission of children who are living in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, accepting undocumented students until their conditions are corrected and exempting them from school fees.

Displacement is typically not a temporary situation for a child. What impact does the protracted nature of crises today have on educational planning?

Despite the nature of the recent crises in the region, migration into Jordan is not new to the country’s educational system. Asylum has been a real challenge for the education system for decades, dating back to the 1940s. The system has only been able to successfully overcome these challenges by integrating established initiatives, as well as deep administrative and technical expertise, and support from international organizations in providing quality educational services to students amid the lack of resources. However, despite these local efforts, and internal and external support, the influx of migrants has had a negative effect on the quality and development of educational services. The challenges varied in their severity and in the Ministry’s ability to control and overcome them in order to ensure the students' continued presence in classrooms and their commitment to formal education. One such challenge is the rate of students dropping out, for reasons including the need for male students to provide financially for their families, and early marriage for female students. Expatriate labour has also posed a major challenge to the efforts of the Ministry of Education to provide education at the secondary level.

What advice would you give to an educational planner in another country with a high refugee population? 

The Ministry of Education’s experience in dealing with the influx of refugees has been a model for decades. The efforts of leaders and royal directives have translated the harsh experiences and profound crises into success stories and helped establish an approach for the Ministry to continue to provide the best quality educational services for students, including systematic learning opportunities to all refugees in the country. The development and implementation of ambitious education strategies that embrace partnerships with ministries and local agencies that share common interests are paramount. They allow leaders to manage refugee crises, capitalize on the available human and material resources, and work on training (the remaining) human resources for educational purposes. In addition, it is important to rely on scientific thinking based on logical and practical principles in the management of an education crisis. This might mean, for example, the development of follow-up plans and strict standards to evaluate the quality of planning and implementation while ensuring human and material resources are utilized in the best possible manner, or maintaining direct communication with decision-makers to keep them up to date. Furthermore, continued support from international human rights organizations and donors is a significant source of both knowledge and finances that can be relied on not only when dealing with a refugee crisis but also when managing resources to ensure that goals are achieved with the minimum effort and cost


This interview has been translated from Arabic with the help of Shérazade Mihoubi, Esraa Salim, and Farah Wael.