How digital classrooms are helping Syrian refugee children learn

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Syrian refugee children are among some of the bravest and most resilient children in the world.  

These children have endured the unimaginable horrors of civil war – losing their homes, family members, possessions and stability. They have also experienced long and treacherous journeys across land and sea to escape and survive. Today, there are 6.6 million Syrian refugees living in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt – half of them are children 

As the civil war that erupted in Syria rages on nearly 10 years later, too many Syrian refugee children are growing up without access to education and opportunity. These children have sometimes been called Syria’s “lost generation” because the war has taken a devastating toll on their hope for a bright future.  

Plan International Canada has been working with Syrian children and families in Jordan since 2018. Our recent project focuses on providing early childhood education that equips refugee children with the skills and knowledge to start the first grade even if they haven’t attended kindergarten.   

Before the onset of the global pandemic, steady progress was being made to address the urgent needs of Syrian refugee children, especially their need to access education despite many challenges and obstacles. However, COVID-19 forced schools and learning environments around the world to shut down, including those in Jordan where thousands of refugee children reside.  

Syrian refugee children get ready for grade 1

With the reality of the pandemic-related school closures, Plan International pivoted programming to a remote learning approach using WhatsApp to ensure refugee children were still able to access education and get ready for one of the most important days in their lives – their first day of primary school.  

 “Children could not make it to kindergarten classes, so we went to them,” says Manal, a teacher based in Jordan who has been connecting with her students and their parents online.  

Educating and empowering parents to support their children’s learning has been central to the success of this project. Together, teachers and parents used online tools to deliver literacy and numeracy lessons to 1,800 Syrian children. A thousand of these children also received tablets to support their virtual learning. 

“My daughter started to wake me up early in the morning to help her attend the online classes together. She gets excited every morning to learn and play,” says Aisha, the mother of 6-year-old Raghad.  

Thanks to remote learning, Raghad is counting down the days until she starts grade 1.  

“Six days until I start going to school. I am excited!” she says after proudly reciting the alphabet and counting to ten. 

Aisha adds that she is so happy to see the progress Raghad has made, saying “it surely helped Raghad and prepared her for school. I don’t think we will be scared or intimidated during her first days.”  

In total, the School Readiness Program delivered by the Ministry of Education and all partners, including Plan International, reached approximately 4,300 children who did not attend kindergarten or who dropped out due to COVID-19 school closures, so that they are prepared and ready for first grade.  

This important work to support Syrian refugee children was made possible by the generosity of Plan International Canada’s donors and their commitment to helping all children reach their full potential. 

teaching the new teachers

“I for one needed some support to learn how to best reach out to my daughter. I think some parents might have faced the same issue. Luckily the teachers were there for me. The teachers guided and helped me deliver the content they were sending to us properly so that my daughter would make the best of these lessons,” said Layla.   

Parents needed to play a more active role in their children’s learning, and to the surprise of some of the teachers, they did. Mervat, a teacher from Irbid who works with Syrian students said, “It was surprising to see how much the parents are involved. The kids are excited to see and try something new.”  

While some parents felt a great sense of pride because they contributed to their children’s education, others found the process of digital learning to be a bonding experience. 

“After coming home from working all night I would need to rest during the day, but sometimes I got up early and helped Omar with his homework. It was nice…tThe program is great, and the teachers were also great. My son is now in first grade in a school near our home and I think that the program not only prepared him for academic requirements but also on a psychological level.”   

With support from teachers, parents felt empowered to deliver education to their children in an effective way and now thousands of Syrian refugee children are ready and even excited to start Grade 1. 

Our commitment to education doesn’t stop with Syrian refugee children

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the education of 1.7 billion students worldwide. A disruption of this scale was unprecedented and forced us not only to pivot the ways in which we could help children learn but to be creative about our response. The pandemic provided an opportunity to test the notion of digital and remote learning and the lessons we have learned may forever change the ways in which we approach access to education. 

Whether it’s Syrian refugee children living in Jordan, or the 11 million girls who may never return to school because of the pandemic, Plan International is committed to helping all children exercise their right to education. During the pandemic, we reached children around the world through the distribution of solar-powered radios, learning kits, tablets and more because we know how powerful education is in unleashing the potential of all children.