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Education in Syria

Aleppo (Photo HH)
Aleppo (Photo HH)

School education entails six years of compulsory primary education, three years of lower secondary education, and three years of upper secondary education. General secondary education offers academic courses and prepares students for university; the final two years are divided between humanities and scientific paths. Vocational secondary training offers courses in industry, agriculture, commerce, and primary schoolteacher training. This system was established in 1967 when the country signed the Arab Cultural Unity Agreement with Jordan and Egypt, introducing a uniform school ladder in the three countries and determining curricula examination procedures and teacher training requirements for each level.

By the early 1980s, Syria had achieved full primary school enrolment of boys of the relevant age; the comparable figure for girls was about 85 percent. In secondary school, the enrolment dropped dramatically to 67 percent for boys, and 35 percent for girls, reflecting a high drop-out rate, which was even higher in remote rural areas. In some villages of the Deir al-Zor governorate, only 8 percent of the girls attended primary school, whereas in Damascus about 49 percent of the girls completed the six-year primary system. In 2011, 94 percent of the boys and 93 percent of the girls were enrolled in primary education; 68 percent of boys and girls went on to secondary school in 2011, according to UNESCO figures. The youth (15-24 years of age) literacy rate in 2010 was 96 percent for boys, 94 percent for girls (source 2008 World Development Indicators). Adult literacy rate in 2010 was 90 percent for males and 77 percent for females (total literacy rate 83 percent). (World Bank)

Child Labour

School dropout rates are relatively high, as is child labour. 0.5 percent of boys and 0.3 percent of girls in 2011 were out-of-school at the primary level. Figures for the secondary level are much higher: 9.1 percent of boys and 12.2 percent of girls dropped out from secondary school. According to the ILO report National Study on Worst Forms of Child Labour in Syria, the school drop-out rate is linked to several factors: poverty (children who instead work to financially support their families), poor quality of education, poor school accessibility or the tendency of not sending girls to school. The exact occurrence of child labour in Syria is difficult to define, as data from several sources contradict each other (moreover, recent data is not available). The above mentioned 2012 ILO report cites several sources: a 2002 UNICEF report on child labour states that 12.8 percent of children between 12-14 years old and 3.1 percent of 10-11 year olds work. The UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) of 1999 reveals that (only) 3 percent of 10-14 year olds work. Finally, according to UNICEF Childinfo statistics, 4 percent of Syrian children aged 5-14 are engaged in labour (based on the MICS of 2006).

Most sources agree that the highest incidence of male child labour occurs in urban areas (especially between the ages of 10-14), while female child labour mainly occurs in rural areas. Child labour increases in governorates with high population growth rates and high school drop-out rates, in addition to agricultural governorates in the north-eastern area. According to nearly all studies, the majority of working children are either school drop-outs or have never enrolled in school.

Higher education

There are four state universities, in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, and Homs. For a few years now, private schools and universities have been authorized, and several have been founded recently. A study among university students by the Norwegian research institute FAFO shows how fast the level of education has risen in Syria. Almost one out of five students has parents who never advanced further than primary school, while one-third stopped at the lowest level of secondary school.


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