Syrian children in Egypt’s schools: what will their future be?
kindergarten for Syrian refugee children in Egypt – Photo courtesy of © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-1244/Abdel Wahab

CAIRO: Following three years of civil war in Syria, 2.4 million Syrians have been displaced, according to the United Nations. As of November 2013, 133,800 of them were in Egypt, and of those, an estimated 75,000 are minors, according to UNICEF.

Only an estimated 31,000 of those children, however, are enrolled in Egyptian schools, according to the Ministry of Education. Syrian parents in Egypt struggle to pay school fees, and the Egyptian system, already hard-pressed for funds to serve Egyptian students, is unable to handle the demand.

“Despite the hard work of the Egyptian government and the Ministry of Education, the ministry cannot absorb all of the 75,000 children because of the limited budget of the ministry and the very large number of Egyptian students,” said Osama Soliman, the director of the immigrants sector at the Ministry of Education.


Local challenges and international assistance

In Egypt, 77 percent of registered Syrian families rely on governmental services to educate their children, according to a survey made by UNICEF in September 2013.

In cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Education, UNICEF supports schools in 6 of October City, Obour, Qalyubia and Alexandria with school supplies and training. These schools serve approximately 4,000 Syrian students, UNICEF media officer Mohamed Megahed told The Cairo Post.

UNICEF also defined new locations for new community-based kindergarten classrooms in Alexandria and Qalyubia to serve 1,200 more children as of November 2013, said Megahed.

In order to include more in the education system, Egypt would need more aid from UNICEF, UNHCR, or another international organization, said Soliman.

The general manager of the immigration sector at the Ministry of Education, Enas Ragab, told The Cairo Post a new agreement would be signed within a month between the ministry and the UNHCR to build, replace and renovate schools to help include more students.

Ragab said the ministry is working on applying a UNICEF program to rehabilitate students in schools, and training teachers in how to deal with those who may have suffered since the war.

Ghadeer, 5, told UNICEF she was shocked by the violence she faced during the war in Syria, and that she preferred to stay in Egypt, the organization wrote on its Facebook page.

Many of the children suffer developmental problems in speaking, as well as trouble sleeping, according to a 2014 study by organization, which attributed the problems to the effect of the violence they had witnessed in the war.

Malaz, also 5, emigrated from Syria with his family to Egypt; the young boy enrolled in a kindergarten class, which developed his communication skills again, but the only thing he misses are his toys that he left in Syria, said UNICEF.

In February 2014, the UNHCR said there were 133,726 Syrians in Egypt, with most settling in Greater Cairo, 6 October City, and Alexandria.

UNHCR-registered Syrian refugee families with school-age children to receive an education grant to help families cover the cost of school fees, uniforms, books, stationary and transportation. These costs could be as high as 585 EGP for kindergarten-age, 810EGP for primary school students, and 1,080 for secondary school students, said Edward Leposky, the associate reporting officer of UNHCR in Egypt.

Leposky added that 48,000 Syrians have been registered with UNHCR.

Moreover, he said that there are several community schools which UNHCR provides assistance to, but none are under the auspices of the organization itself.

Catholic Relief Services also works with UNHCR, and manages educational grant disbursement, Leposky said.

UNHCR and UNICEF have been providing support to the Ministry of Education in the form of equipment, rehabilitation of classroom space and education supplies. UNHCR, UNICEF and Save the Children have also been involved in promoting child protection and establishing child-friendly spaces, said Leposky.


Red tape and bureaucracy

Following the July 2013 ouster of Mohamed Morsi, many Syrians were deported and otherwise detained, said Soliman, adding that this prevented a number of students from submitting their papers, causing them to miss enrollment deadlines in schools.

Emad Ali, 45, a Syrian father of two preparatory school students and a 5-year-old told The Cairo Post it took two months to complete the papers for his two daughters to register them at a public school after he withdrew their applications from a private school after he realized that he could not afford the private tuition, 6,000 EGP ($861) per student.

Ali said the principal of a public school in Heliopolis, which he declined to identify, required a 3,000 EGP “donation” in order to grant his daughters a place in the school.

The money donated by the UNHCR “is not enough at all, the bus that the kids ride costs 500 EGP per month,” added Ali.

Ali said the quality of the education in Egypt is not as good as what his children were used to in Syria, and the material was different as well, “but my daughters are smart, they could go through and get high grades as they used to do,” said Ali.

Registration processing can take time because the passport administration will only issue a study residence permit after a child has been assigned a place in a specific school, and the permit must also be approved by the ministry of education.

“I have a 5-year-old daughter who is supposed to be in a KG class now, but I don’t know if I’m going to let her enter the school now,” Ali said. He said that since the papers take such a long time, and there is a “stranglehold” on Syrians to find work, he cannot afford it.

Ali said he arrived in Egypt in June 28, 2012, and tried three times to smuggle himself to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Egyptian authorities arrested the smugglers in Beheira and he spent a month in jail. “I will keep trying to get out of Egypt to give my daughter better life and better learning opportunity,” Ali said.

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