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Press Release

First-of-its kind survey of Syrian school children shows math and reading skills devastated by war

  • Six years in, the war in Syria is taking a major toll on children’s math and reading skills
  • Though the country historically has enjoyed high literacy rates, one-third –1.75 million –of Syrian children today are out of school, and 5.8 million need education assistance
  • The IRC is responding with education and social-emotional learning programs to help

An IRC survey of about 3,000 school children at five schools in northern Syria indicates that Syrian children’s math skills are falling far behind pre-war levels. The IRC supports more than 3,500 students in five schools in northern Syria.

According to the survey:

  • One-third of eight graders (35 percent) (1) were unable to complete a reading task designed for 2nd graders and nearly half (46 percent) were unable to complete the equivalent math task. (2)
  • There was an even wider gap amongst sixth-graders, with more than half (59 percent) unable to complete the second-grade reading task and nearly two thirds (64 percent) unable to complete the math task.
  • The survey also demonstrated the extent to which boys were particularly struggling, with seventh-grade boys more than twice as likely as their female classmates to fail second-grade reading and writing tasks. (3)

Even in the middle of war parents still strive to ensure their children get an education. However, even for those fortunate enough to attend school, trauma and displacement leave children with emotional scars that can dramatically inhibit their ability learn. We are storing up huge problems for tomorrow if we do not give Syrian children the resources they need to heal, develop and thrive.

-David Miliband, CEO and President of the International Rescue Committee

In response to the challenges outlined in the survey, the IRC is providing social-emotional learning (SEL) along with reading and math programs for children in Syria to help them recover from trauma and develop the skills they need to do well in school and in life. SEL skills enable children to manage information without being distracted, use their working memory, control their impulses, get along with others, and persevere. IRC research shows that SEL improves student’s reading and math scores. The organization also supports 160 teachers to provide classes for primary and secondary school students, including Arabic, math, social studies, art, and sports

After six years of war the situation facing children in Syria is dire. More than a quarter of the children surveyed have had to flee their homes and many have seen the impact of the fighting and air strikes. It is estimated that nearly a third of Syria’s 5.8 million school-aged children are not receiving an education (1.75 million), and a third of schools have been damaged or are now unusable due to the conflict. 

The IRC has been delivering aid into Syria since 2012 and last year reached more than 1 million Syrians inside their country.

Read the full survey results here. Spokespeople available in Jordan, Lebanon, London, New York, Washington DC.

Notes for Editors

  1. The age of the children has been converted from the US grading system (eg. 13 year old = grade 8), and therefore may not align exactly.
  2. They couldn’t complete the second-grade tasks of reading a 60-word story or subtracting one maths problem.
  3. Only 23 percent of seventh-grade boys could successfully complete the reading task, compared to 59 percent of girls. Just 19 percent of boys in the seventh-grade could complete the maths task, compared to 45 percent of girls.
  4. The assessment was carried out in November 2016 in five IRC-supported schools in Idlib Governorate. The sample covered 2,846 children (1,255 boys and 1,591 girls).
About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.