When Suhair Abdulhadi, principal of Al Taibeh Primary School for Girls in Al Taibeh, Irbid, had to inform a parent that their child could not be enrolled because the overcrowded school could not accommodate any more students, they weren’t deterred: “If there are no desks in the classroom, no problem, I’ll buy her a chair!”
But it wasn’t desks, or the lack thereof, that was the problem. Al Taibeh Primary School for Girls, like 47 per cent of schools nationwide, is struggling to cope with the large numbers of Syrian refugee students. The Syria crisis has had a profound impact on the education sector. A drastic increase in demand - particularly in the governorates of Amman, Irbid, Mafraq, and Zarqa, where over 70 per cent of registered refugees reside - has put tremendous pressure on education resources and infrastructure, especially space in public schools and human resource capacity.
At the beginning of the school year in 2014, “many Syrians were on the waiting list, more than 200 children risked missing out on the school year” Abdulhadi explains, “so I pushed as much as I could.” But there simply wasn’t enough space or enough teachers, and many children remained on the waiting list.
Al Taibeh Primary School for Girls is one of nearly one hundred public schools that have adopted a second shift to accommodate the rising number of students. But even doubling the school’s capacity isn’t sufficient, and some classes have up to 40 students; the national standard is 27.
“It is very difficult for teachers to control their classrooms” says Abdulhadi, owing not only to their size, but also because of the special psychosocial needs of some of the children who have experienced trauma.
This has very real implications for the quality of education children receive. Not only are classes oversubscribed, meaning that teachers have less time to dedicate to individual students, but even class times have been reduced from 45 minutes to 35 minutes to accommodate two shifts in one day.
Low quality of education has lasting implications, particularly as boys and girls progress through school without mastering important foundational skills. This is a particular concern as students enter secondary level ill-prepared and with limited opportunity for additional support.
It is estimated that 300 new schools would be needed to ensure there are sufficient facilities for all school-age children – Syrian refugees and Jordanians – using the national standard of 19 classes per school.
“Education is definitely the most important thing for a child’s future, especially during formative years” said Abdulhadi. “I will be here until there are enough schools for all students.”
The dedicated principal has been working at the school for 16 years, seven of which she served as a teacher before taking up her current role. As the 2015/2016 school year begins, Abdulhadi is one step closer to her goal.
Al Taibeh Primary School is one of nine schools in Jordan that will benefit from the construction of 59 classrooms and nine WASH facilities, as well as the renovation of nine playgrounds through a project being implemented by the Norwegian Refugee Council under the umbrella of the Jordan Response Plan 2015.
For Abdulhadi, that means being able to accept 360 additional students each year. Nationwide across all nine schools, the figure is 2,500 additional students. And over the entire life span of the school (estimated at 30 years), it means 75,000 students who may not have otherwise had a chance to attend school, will. And no one will need to bring their own chair.
Special thanks to NRC for organizing a field visit for this story.
Project name: Increased access to quality education in the host community
JRP Specific Objective: RES 2: Capacity of education service providers increased to deliver quality inclusive education and training for all boys and girls (children and youth) – particularly the most vulnerable
JRP Project Title: RES 2.1 Increasing school absorptive capacity and utilization
Project Budget: USD 3.2 million
Project Duration: 13 months
Financing Agency: Government of Norway
Implementing Partner: Norwegian Refugee Council