Tailored classes ease Syrian kids' transition to Egypt

Supplemental classes and alternative schools are popping up all over Egypt to help smooth the transition of displaced Syrian students.

al-monitor A Syrian man carries his son during a rally against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Al-Azhar Mosque, Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 28, 2012. Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images.

Topics covered

students, schools, syrian refugees, egyptian society, children, education, arabic

Jan 15, 2018

CAIRO — Some Syrian students living in Egypt attend special classes to help them meet the particular challenges they face as refugees in Egyptian schools. The first school for Syrians was inaugurated at the end of 2015 in 6th of October City, a suburb of Cairo where Syrians abound.

These schools do not entirely replace Egyptian schools, but operate in parallel, teaching the same curriculum to Syrian students in the Syrian dialect of Arabic and tailor lessons to remedial needs. These institutions, some called schools and others are known as learning centers, serve all levels from kindergarten to high school. Some of them charge a nominal fee while others are free of charge. There are no statistics available on their number in Egypt, but according to some estimates, there are 12 such schools in 6th of October City alone. These schools employ many Syrians as instructors and other staff.

Director of the Syrian al-Mehwar School in 6th of October City Samer Tohme told Al-Monitor, “The large number of students in Egyptian schools and the crowded classes have made it difficult for Syrian pupils to understand the educational material. Some Syrian students also find it hard to blend in with their Egyptian peers due to the different culture and traditions.”

He added, “Syrian students enroll normally in Egyptian schools, but they also attend classes at the Syrian schools. At the end of the school term, they take exams at the Egyptian school where they enrolled to get their certificate.”

According to Tohme, in addition to attending these schools, Syrian students often attend a few courses at Egyptian schools to meet minimum attendance requirements, which are lenient for refugees.

Tohme said that 800 students at his school pay a nominal fee of $170 per year. Some Syrian schools offer their services to Syrian students for free.

The Al-Amal Center in Giza governorate's al-Haram area, established in 2016, was the first facility to offer free educational services to Syrians. Sahib al-Aswad, the media coordinator for Al-Amal, told Al-Monitor, “Many Syrian students without much in the way of financial resources wanted private tutoring, as learning can be difficult in crowded Egyptian schools, where they also found it difficult to blend in. This is how the idea of the center was born. They enroll at the center to be taught the Egyptian curricula in the dialect they understand.”

Aswad noted that the institutions seek funding from civil society organizations in addition to personal funding from Syrians in Egypt as well as Egyptians.

Aswad added, “Some Syrian schools in Egypt are not legally registered, especially those that offer free services. Therefore, they risk being shut down. Some schools are legally registered as charities, and Egyptian private tutors fight to get them closed because Syrian students prefer them. Finding sufficient funding is another constant challenge.”

Since 2012, Syrian students in Egypt have the right to the same free and public services provided to Egyptians, including elementary education. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education estimates that there around 40,000 Syrian students in Egypt.

The Egyptian government is cooperating with nongovernmental organizations to work toward integrating Syrian students in Egyptian schools by creating an environment in which all students can thrive and offering psychological and social support to foster integration between Syrians and Egyptians.

Medhat Massaad, the former undersecretary of the Ministry of Education, told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian government has been offering support, including educational services, to Syrians since they came to Egypt. Still, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education should conduct a thorough study to examine the obstacles and difficulties facing Syrian students and limit the expansion of Syrian schools.”

He added, “It is normal for Syrian students to take time to adapt to the differences in accent and customs and blend in with their peers.”

Massaad noted, “The ministry rejects any educational activities outside the scope of accredited schools. The increasing popularity of Syrian schools might turn into a form of financial exploitation of Syrian students.”

Ghatfan Khair, a Syrian teacher living in Egypt and the father of a student at a Syrian school in 6th of October City, told Al-Monitor, “Syrian schools in Egypt are a safety net for our students because they offer the Egyptian curricula in a form that is in line with their culture and promotes their education.” He added, “Some schools take a fee, but it is symbolic relative to the important educational services it offers Syrian students.”

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