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Dubai Cares launches three pronged education initiatives in Jordan to help Syrian refugee children and Jordanian host communities Image Credit: Dubai Cares

Dubai: Even before the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, neighbouring Jordan’s education system was already floundering under the influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees dating back to 2003 and 1948.

Limits of 36 pupils per class were then blown out of the water when the biggest mass migration since World War II deposited another 1.2 million Syrian refugees, 10 per cent of Jordan’s population and 150,000 of school going age, into Jordanian schools.

With class sizes now exceeding 80 students per class, and teachers working double shifts, the system is in crisis.

As well as over 80,000 Syrian refugee children being out of school, more than 40,000 Jordanian students are also going without an education as the push for places intensifies.

Gulf News visited Jordan’s capital Amman recently to find out about three projects Dubai Cares has launched and committed Dh26,089,042 towards to help alleviate the crisis.

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Dubai Cares CEO Tariq Al Gurg with children of one of the schools benefiting from the initiative Image Credit: Dubai Cares

Increasing access to kindergartens

The Dh5,884,792 two-year Rawadati programme will ensure that 4,000 boys and girls between the ages of five and six years old, in three governorates of Jordan – including the Azraq refugee camp – are prepared for grade one education.

At present 69 per cent of children in Jordan under the age of six – and even lower among Syrian refugees - have access to pre-primary care, and kindergarten is considered a luxury because its private, meaning many parents can’t afford it. In the best case scenario this means children often sit out until grade one but go in heavily underprepared.

“This programme is very timely as the government has announced that pre-school will be compulsory by the 2019/20 school year,” said Muna Abbas, country director of Plan International Jordan, who support the programme along with Plan International Canada, Lamsa World and Ustad Mobile.

As well as increasing access to kindergartens by expanding classrooms and encouraging parents to enroll their children, it will also improve the quality of established KGs by delivering teacher training and psychosocial support for the most vulnerable children.

Finally, for children who have neither KG experience nor access to the KG programme, 80 school readiness programmes will be set up to accelerate development using 18 trainers, 160 teachers, to reach an additional 10,000 indirect beneficiaries.

By partnering with two UAE-based Educational Technology (EdTech) companies, Lamsa World and Ustad Mobile, Dubai Cares will also be able to supplement home learning and teacher support via mobile devices.

“This project is the saviour of the community,” said Muna Jumaa, principal of Al Ara’ek, a community-based organisation in Hay Nazzal, East Amman, where 70 per cent of its 50 children are Syrian. “Parents don’t have financial resources and it’s very hard for them to afford fees and schooling because most Syrians don’t work and if they do the priority goes towards paying rent, that’s why schooling is not their first concern. You cannot imagine how happy parents are because this is their only way to get their children in schools.”

Dubai Cares CEO Tariq Al Gurg said, “This programme aims to support both Syrian and Jordanian children at pre-primary level by giving them access to quality education from the outset, while leveraging technology through existing mobile devices to increase outreach without additional infrastructure.”

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Children from one of the schools to benefit from the Rawadati programme stage a performance to thank the Dubai Cares delegation Image Credit: Dubai Cares

Teacher support

Elsewhere, a five-year Transforming Refugee Education towards Excellence (TREE) programme, which benefits from a Dh5,510,250 contribution from Dubai Cares, will also provide emotional and social support for the wellbeing of 1,350 teachers, while impacting the lives of 745,000 students.

Implemented by Save the Children and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab, TREE will act as a support system for teachers across 24 schools with eight four-hour counselling sessions a semester, totaling 16.

“The children are traumatized because of what they’ve seen during the war and when they arrive here in a totally new environment it takes time for them to settle in,” said Zaid Qardan, development and quality director of Save the Children.

“It’s scientifically proven that if a child is not mentally prepared to learn they won’t. Teachers need to understand that and have the skills to deal with that child to bring them to a comfortable area,” he added.

Fatima Al Wasa, principal of Seqaina bint Al Hussein girl’s school in Amman, said, “Syrian girls of which we have about 60 or 70 in a school of 850, have a lot of issues because of the war.

“Teachers face these issues and want to learn how to communicate and adapt to help those students. Whether Syrians or Jordanians we all face the same issues, so this programme will help these teachers know how to teach these kids and get them over their psychological issues,” she added.

Dubai Cares CEO Tariq Al Gurg said, “Teachers in some parts of Jordan are struggling in extremely challenging environments such as inadequate support, overcrowded classrooms, and lack of training, to name but a few. We believe that the TREE programme is a powerful tool which supports teachers to be agents of change.”

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Dubai Cares CEO Tariq Al Gurg oversees a tour of the school where children are benefiting from its programmes Image Credit: Dubai Cares

Higher learning

Rules state in Jordan that if you miss two years of school you can’t go back, and as a result 60 per cent don’t pass their Tawjihi exam to graduate from high school. This is where home-learning apps like ‘MiyaMiya’ created by US-based education technology firm Pedago, implemented by Questscope, will help reintegrate out-of-school children back into higher education pathways.

Dubai Cares has secured Dh14,694,000 for the project from supporters like the Chaloub Group and Vitol Foundation, with the Queen Rania Foundation and Jordan’s Ministry of Education providing research and evaluation.

This two-year programme for males aged 13-18 and females aged 13-20, will aide 300 students through centres, and a further 2,000 unassisted via home learning apps through their own phones, within which Pedago claims a 65 per cent success rate at getting unschooled teens through their exams.

“This will be especially useful in a country like Jordan where drop-out rates are so high. There are all sorts of microsegments who are very troubled not only from war in neighbouring countries but also from teen marriages, where girls return to the academic path,” said Pedago founder Tom Adams.

Maen Rayyan, the deputy country director, education programmes manager of Questscope agreed, “With class sizes reaching 80 students it’s not a safe environment for learning so many drop out, it’s also because they need money so they go to work instead. The financial support is not enough for them, so there is a huge number of Syrians and Jordanians who drop out. With girls we also have an issue of early marriage and early divorce. They left school to get married but return to education afterwards to support their children. That’s why we have extended the age range for females in this programme up to age 20, while the males stop at 18.”

Dubai Cares CEO Tariq Al Gurg said, “This cutting edge technology led programme aims to offer flexible learning solutions that empower refugees and host communities in diverse circumstances to pursue their education, which is a basic human right and a step forward to protect refugee children and give them hope for a better future for themselves, their families and communities.”