Cover: Education of Syrian Refugee Children

Education of Syrian Refugee Children

Managing the Crisis in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan

Published Nov 23, 2015

by Shelly Culbertson, Louay Constant


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تعليم أطفال اللاجئين السوريين: إدارة الأزمة في تركيا ولبنان والأردن

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Research Questions

  1. How can Syrian refugee children access education?
  2. How will education for Syrian refugee children be planned, managed, and resourced?
  3. How can education for Syrian refugee children promote a stable and prosperous society? How can plans for this education be managed within sensitive political constraints?
  4. How can quality of education for both Syrian refugee children and host country citizens be promoted in such difficult circumstances?

With four million Syrian refugees as of September 2015, there is urgent need to develop both short-term and long-term approaches to providing education for the children of this population. This report reviews Syrian refugee education for children in the three neighboring countries with the largest population of refugees — Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan — and analyzes four areas: access, management, society, and quality. Policy implications include prioritizing the urgent need to increase access to education among refugees; transitioning from a short-term humanitarian response to a longer-term development response; investing in both government capacity to provide education and in formal, quality alternatives to the public school systems; improving data in support of decisionmaking; developing a deliberative strategy about how to integrate or separate Syrian and host-country children in schools to promote social cohesion; limiting child labor and enabling education by creating employment policies for adults; and implementing particular steps to improve quality of education for both refugees and citizens.

Key Findings

Access to Education Is the Biggest Obstacle

  • As of November 2015, 700,000 Syrian refugee children (up from 542,000 in August 2014) are not attending formal education in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Barriers to access include school space shortages, language and curriculum, transportation, parental documentation, child labor and early marriage, school fees, and safety.

Managing Education Strategy Involves Short-Term and Long-Term Considerations

  • Given that the Syrian civil war is ongoing, it will be many years until the Syrians can return home. Yet the refugee education response has mainly been addressed as a short-term effort. There has been little longer term planning to manage refugee education into the future.

Social Conditions Make Education a Secondary Consideration

  • Several societal challenges are related to education, including how Syrian refugee children are separated from or integrated with host country children in schools, certification of education to provide pathways to the labor market or further education, the need to improve livelihoods to reduce child labor or early marriage and enable education, and how schools and teachers manage the psychosocial needs of children.
  • While these policy issues are politically charged, not addressing them poses risks to delicate societal balances over time.

All Challenges Affect Education Quality

  • The influx of many new children has led to problems with the quality of education, for both refugees and host country children. Quality concerns include crowded classrooms and placing children of different educational levels together.
  • The additional students have meant that investments in quality improvements for host country education systems have been put on hold.


  • Develop a coordinated strategy to address access for out-of-school children.
  • Develop a plan to make strategic use of more available school spaces.
  • Create additional shifts in public schools, with greater attention to quality.
  • Develop consistent, quality, full-time, certified formal educational alternatives.
  • Analyze scope of barriers to access, and develop plans to address them.
  • Pursue an innovative school financing and building plan.
  • Include longer-term development planning in addition to humanitarian responses.
  • Invest in building capacity for governments to manage the crisis into the future.
  • Prioritize funding to support medium-term formal education.
  • Enhance data and information in support of managing refugee education.
  • Improve effectiveness and efficiency of the refugee education response with creative use of technology.
  • Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of integration or separation of Syrian children within public schools, and create a deliberative strategy to address this question.
  • Coordinate curriculum standards and certification exams on a regional level as a strategy to prepare Syrian children for two scenarios: returning to life in Syria and integrating into the host countries.
  • Develop programs at the national scale to better prepare schools and teachers to address the psychosocial needs of refugee children.
  • Ensure adequate instructional time in first and second shift schools.
  • Strategically support teachers with refugees in their classrooms.
  • Integrate new schools and shifts into national school monitoring systems, and develop additional monitoring and support approaches appropriate to the new situations.
  • Keep focused attention on the education needs of host country nationals.

Research conducted by

This research was supported through philanthropic contributions and conducted under RAND's RAND Initiative for Middle Eastern Youth (IMEY) within the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy (CMEPP), part of International Programs at the RAND Corporation.

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