With the establishment of the Civil Council of Deir-ez-Zor in 2017, an Education Committee was created focusing on the revitalization and rebuilding of the education system. A civil committee has recently decided not to teach the curriculum of the Autonomous Administration in the region and is now confronted with the challenge of setting up its own curriculum. Kemal Musa is head of the Education committee in Deir-ez-Zor. He explains the reconstruction efforts being made in the region and the difficulties the educational system of Deir-ez-Zor is facing. The interview was done on 9 July 2020.

How did the Syrian Civil war impact the educational system of Deir-ez-Zor?

Since the events started in Syria in 2011, this country has been in a constant state of crisis. This crisis has had a drastic impact on all the society, the largest impact being on the education sector.

In the regions of Deir-ez-Zor, there are approximately 706 schools managed by the Autonomous Administration and the local Civil Administration. But of course when the Syrian Civil war began all of these schools were closed, and no longer operational. When the Free Syrian Army (Now the Syrian National Army) took control over the region the whole education sector was brought to a halt, and the same thing occurred when Deir-ez-Zor fell under the control of ISIS. Due to these incidents, the students of this region were cut off from education for nearly 7 years. Approximately 96 school buildings were completely destroyed, 240 schools are greatly in need of reform and reconstruction. Because of the war and conflicts of so many various groups and forces who fight for the control over Syria, the children of Deir-ez-Zor have been seriously harmed.

What does the educational offer in Deir-ez-Zor look like as of today?

In 2017, the eastern countryside of Deir-ez-Zor endeavored to re-open the schools and to prepare them for the return of the students. In the beginning there was no equipment for the schools, such as chairs, desks, windows and doors etc… There were very few teachers prepared to give lessons, but students and intellectuals had a strong fundamental desire to have active schools in this region, so they became an important part of this reconstruction process. This way we began the reopening of our schools. As of today we have 610 active and operational schools. 520 other schools are currently being built up. Nearly 90 schools were previously residential buildings but are now being used as educational facilities.

These schools serve nearly 238,000 students, of which 226,000 are in elementary schools, 12,000 in middle school and we are currently working on opening a pre-university school. 6,674 employees work for our schools. In some of the schools reformation and reconstruction works are complete, but much work still remains to be done.

As it is well known, in this region there are many refugee camps, and we see it as our responsibility to cover the needs of these families living in the camps, especially concerning matters of education. For this reason, we, as a section of the education system, have created connections and relationships with these families and built a school in the Abu Khesheb refugee camp, in the camp of Mihemeeda and many others. We did our best to fulfill the needs of these families.

What curriculum and which subjects are being taught in the schools?

In the beginning, there was no foundation for the curriculum which could serve as a basis for our educational system. Because of this we adopted the method of ”self-learning” presented to us by UNICEF. Of course UNICEF provided support but not in a way which fulfilled all of our needs.

So the curriculum that we use as a base line is ”learning by yourself” and the accompanying textbooks are in the subjects of reading and writing, mathematics and science. This curriculum was adopted during the time of war and only included the essentials.

There was a proposal that the curriculum of the Autonomous Administration in use in other regions of North and East Syria would also be applied here. In this regard, a committee comprised of residents of Deir-ez-Zor, Raqqa and Tabqa was set up, with the goal of researching curriculum and which style or method would be most appropriate for the specific situation of these regions. But after having discussed this proposal with the responsible teachers, we saw that many updates and corrections of the curriculum as proposed by the AANES would be necessary. As a result there is no curriculum of the Autonomous administration in use here, and also no subject of Jineology (women’s science).

Jineology (women’s science) school books as they are used in other parts of the AANES

Of course, education in Deir-ez-Zor will be given in the language of Arabic, as this region is primarily inhabited by Arabs and Arab tribes.

What is most important is that the continuation of this education process without a sufficient curriculum is not feasible. It is necessary to prepare a curriculum for every grade. For this, those responsible for the education system must develop a common view, for the success of the future of our education system.

As compared to the previous education system, what is new in how schools are working in Deir-ez-Zor since its integration into the AANES?

The schools of Deir-ez-Zor now follow new regulations and principles such as the students right to learn and understand, and the fact that physical punishment of students is now forbidden. In our educational system, we have a co-chair system where two teachers from each school will take a role of responsibility – one man and one woman.

The teachers union was established in order to ensure the rights of the teachers, too, for example in the case one of the teachers, or a member of their family, falls ill. Teachers have also duties and obligations. If they make a mistake, a report accounting for the error will be required.

We established this system two years ago. Now we are working on updating the regulations, according to the views of our responsibles and teachers in the region. Certainly every teacher has both the right and the duty to be trained in order to better fulfill their task, and to build a positive relationship with their pupils. In the two previous years, several terms (semesters) of training were delivered to the teachers, because many of them were previously not working in the education system of the Syrian government (Assad government).

What are the future challenges for the schools in Deir-ez-Zor?

As everyone knows, these last years in Deir-ez-Zor have been riddled with war and massive destruction, and as I previously stated, the largest impact of all is on the psychology of the children.

In the education system there are many needs, as the number of students is increasing. We have always experienced, and are still experiencing difficulties establishing health facilities in the schools. In the previous year, we made a small amount of progress concerning this issue. Aside from this we need to build new school facilities, to replace the old schools which were destroyed because the number of students is growing. There are still schools with crumbling or destroyed walls, and of course walls are a form of defense and schools must be protected. They were destroyed by missiles. All of these problems are more pronounced in our current situation, and with the outbreak of the Corona virus.

One of the other problems we are experiencing is the problem of furnishing the schools. Of course thanks to our responsible and our supporters we are to a certain degree solving this problem, but it is not sufficient and still requires more support. We see that there are still many necessities for the schools, such as chairs for the students, white boards, the reconstruction of walls etc…

We are hopeful that our voices will reach the people, and our management. We thank those who built up the education system for all the work that has been done, but as we said there are still many important requirements. In spite of the efforts, still many needs have not been met.