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Interim Education Minister reveals difficulties in opposition-held areas

By Abdullah Ghadawi

(Zaman Al Wasl)- Dr. Imad Barq, the Minister of Education in the opposition's interim government, reveals in an interview with Zaman al-Wasl how the education proccess is rolling on in rebel-held areas and gives more highlights over the accreditation of certificates, changes to curricula, and the challenges facing the Ministry.

- The Ministry of Education is known for its role inside Syria, what have you achieved in the last period?

Our role inside Syria is due to our position as the first official institution in the Syrian interim government which moved its headquarters from Turkey to Syrian in August 2014. We began monitoring Syrians’ education through nine education directorates in nine governorates in liberated areas (Aleppo - Idlib - Damascus Suburbs- Homs - Hama - Lattakia - Damascus city- Daraa - Quneitra). Several educational complexes affiliated to the education directorates were established, 36 in total, most of which cover education in the liberated areas.

The Ministry has achieved much in the field of standardizing the curricula, supervising central examinations, and linking the educational process with a single reference represented by the Ministry. As well as securing many of the requirements for the educational process, and in this way, the Ministry formed a close relationship with the Syrian interior.

There are 2281 educational complexes. 96% of the schools are public of which about 5% are fully serviced, and in 95% the services are incomplete.

Approximately 2,820 schools are damaged and have stopped function. Around 60% of these are partially damaged, 20% are completely damaged, and 20% are used as shelter for internally displaced persons.

Who provides the salaries for the education sector and who are the supporting bodies?

Salaries, providing grants, supporting teachers or providing any form of the educational process happen through the Ministry of Education or its directorates by signing memorandums of understanding with local civil society organizations or foreign organizations. The memorandums define the basis and mechanisms for providing the support and financing the educational process in Syria.

The National Coalition funded the national examinations for 2013, the Syrian interim government funded the 2014 examinations, and the Sankari Humanitarian Foundation funded the 2015 cycle. In 2016, this foundation also funded the exams, and part of the funding was from the management program funded by DFID, a British organization for development.

Certification Accreditation

- Are the certificates issued by the schools in liberated areas accredited in Turkey?

The 2014 examination round were evaluated by the Dutch organization Spark which supports the education of the Syrians. The organization prepared its report and presented it to the Turkish government. Based on the report, the Turkish, American, German and British governments approved the certificates issued by the Interim Ministry of Education. UNICEF evaluated the 2015 examination round, and that evaluation was also positive.

- Has there been a change in the previous curricula?

The Ministry of Education in the Syrian Interim Government has adopted the Syrian curricula used by the Syrian state and its educational institutions without modifying its scientific content. There has been no change in the curricula, but the Ministry of Education has carefully reviewed the curricula and made some modifications and improvements based on scientific recommendations of experts and specialists.

The specialized committees were keen to show Syria’s true and bright face which the despotic regime has tried to distort by highlighting fictitious issues and denying real issues and concerns. The curricula adopted in the liberated areas has only been amended by 10%. These curricula are extensions and subject to periodical amendments and updating to match the ever-changing reality.

Adjust Learning Processes

A decision was issued not to allow any educational activity without the approval of the directorates of education. What is meant by this?

The circular was disseminated to all the directorates. The circular concerns the activities of civil society organizations which support and fund the educational process. They will not be allowed to undertake any educational activity until they have authorized their work in Syria and signed a memorandum of understanding with the ministry or directorates. After these processes, they will be granted approval undertake activities, and the aim is to control organizations’ work and activities, and define their tasks, roles and powers.

How do you deal with Fatah al-Sham’s activities and the call for religious schools?
We do not deal with any military factions, and the ministry’s work is far from the military factions’ activities, and political work. The Ministry’s work is distinguished by its independence. There are religious schools in Syria affiliated to military factions whether Fatah al-Sham or other bodies, but these schools are not connected to the Ministry.

There are several Sharia high schools in the governorates linked to and registered with the directorates, and they teach the Islamic curricula approved by the ministry. This curriculum is the same as that taught in Sharia high schools before the revolution with some modifications similar to those done undertaken for the general curricula.

What are the difficulties facing education?

The security risk to schools due to the constant bombing by the regime and its allies, and the lack of appropriate educational environments in schools or educational centers since the school spaces do not adhere to education conditions. Most schools are not equipped, or the school is in cellars - shelters - public institutions – and homes.

In addition to the existence of large numbers of students who dropped out of education. An estimated 80,000 students have not been able to attend school for over a year or more. These students are in the greatest need for schools and educational programs special for them to catch up. We do not yet have special curricula for students who need to catch up. Not to mention the lack of funding to rehabilitate schools or open educational centers. Many teachers were not receiving salaries, so many of them left teaching.

We absorbed students from internally displaced families coming to Idlib

- As many families move to Idlib, is there a capacity to absorb these students?

In this context, the Ministry directed the Directorate of Education in Idlib to form an Emergency Committee in the Directorate and its schools. A contingency plan was developed to accommodate all the displaced students coming to the governorate. Most of the students were absorbed in Idlib’s schools and the other areas in the western Aleppo countryside. And several displaced teachers have also joined schools in these areas.

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