In the fifth periodic report of the Syrian Arab Republic to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, inclusive education is mentioned in the efforts made by the government ‘to guarantee the educational rights of persons with disabilities with a view to integrating them into the school system and improving their access to inclusive education. It does this in line with its own vision, which includes promoting the overall quality of education and interacting more effectively with the requirements of comprehensive development.’
Special education needs
The 2009 report presented by the Syrian Arab Republic to the Committee for the Rights of the Child states that ‘The Syrian Arab Republic provides access to health care and education to all male and female children in rural and urban areas, with a focus on protection and care for those with special needs.’ The report mentions that persons with special needs include ‘orphans, children of unknown parentage and those with disabilities’.
Article 2(d) of Law No. 7 of 2012 stipulates that students with severe cases of disability are to be referred to the Ministry of Social Affairs. Students with less severe disabilities are to be integrated in public schools following the criteria for inclusion and integration produced by the Ministry of Education.
Article 9 of Law No. 34 of 2004 concerning people with disabilities in Syria outlines several sub-articles aiming to give children with disabilities equal opportunities from early childhood, whether within Syria’s public schools or in special institutes if these children are unable to be integrated within the public school system. This law focused on offering children with physical disabilities the opportunity to be educated in the public school system and in specialized institutes, based on guidelines agreed upon in coordination between the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education. In addition, Article 9(6) of Law No. 34 of 2004 states that support and provisions will be offered and the needed environment created to achieve the highest extent and potential of academic and social growth to serve the purpose of full integration.
Institutions for persons with disabilities provide several services, including education, habilitation and vocational training, ‘in a manner consistent with their needs and their disability (such as visual, hearing, motorial or intellectual disabilities)’. The families are informed about the students’ progress. Other institutions teach them life skills and competences they need to integrate into society.
To ensure the education rights of people with disabilities are fulfilled, the Ministry of Education began by drafting a charter. It then opened integrated schools in all governorates where there were children with mild or moderate disabilities. Before the outbreak of the crisis in the country, 1,453 students were enrolled in 75 schools. New schools were opened to replace those damaged during the crisis.
Ministerial Decree No. 515 of 2006 highlights the importance of integrating students with special needs with the other students in public schools. Further, the 2008–25 National Plan for Disability sets a priority to help integrate children with disabilities in schools. Based on that plan, the Ministry of Social Affairs would continue to work to help integrate children with disabilities in schools through collaboration with the Ministry of Education and civil society organizations. These collaborations aim to help students with disabilities join pre-school and basic education schools based on their mental and physical abilities and capabilities.
Syria has neither acceded to, nor accepted, nor ratified the UN Convention Against Discrimination in Education, but it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993. Article 25 of the 2012 Constitution states that education is one of the basic pillars for building society. The right to education is thus a national priority in Syria. Under Compulsory Education Act No. 7 of 2012, parents or guardians are required to send their children to school and are liable under the law if they fail to do so. That act complemented Act No. 32 of 2002, which made education compulsory until completion of the primary level. Children in Syria, both male and female, irrespective of religion or any other affiliation, have the right to education and to enter school from the age of 6. Article 29(1) states that ‘education shall be a right guaranteed by the state, and it is free at all levels’. The law ‘shall regulate the cases where education could not be free at universities and government institutes’. Article 29(2) states that ‘education shall be compulsory until the end of basic education stage, and the state shall work on extending compulsory education to other stages’. Under the Constitution, all citizens are equal, there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, origin, language, religion or belief, and the State guarantees equality of opportunity among citizens (Art. 33).
The Ministry of Education issues decrees and publishes circulars banning corporal punishment in schools, and any child who suffers aggression or violence within school may file a complaint in that regard.
By Legislative Decree No. 12, promulgated on 10 February 2009 (Annex 49), Syria ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol. In parallel, Article 9(1) of Law No. 34 of 2004 states that the state is to give full care for the education of children with disabilities from early childhood. Similarly, Article 9(4) focuses on empowering children with disabilities to gain access to free and compulsory high-quality education that is inclusive of all and is egalitarian. Finally, Article 9(5) highlights the need to pay attention to individual differences.
At the beginning of 2015, the Ministry of Health opened four clinics for newborn infants in three governorates (Damascus, Homs and Tartus) for early identification of disabilities. Newborns ‘are examined for hearing and sight disabilities, and for hip dysplasia. Any disabilities are then recorded in the national register. The Ministry is working to expand the initiative to all other governorates.’
Syria acceded to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2003. A project developed in cooperation with UNICEF focuses on girls’ education. Special sections have been opened for the 8–15 age group and intensive curricula have been devised for girls who have dropped out of school or never enrolled. The ministry has also issued several ministerial circulars with a view to facilitating the return to school, preventing truancy and registering undocumented students in state-run, private, vocational or sharia schools.
Indigenous and ethnic minorities
Syria was among the states that voted in favour of adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
Remote areas and nomadic people
The Ministry of Education has adopted the general principle of educational flexibility in specific areas, where schools can start and finish at different times than in the rest of the country; it has also opened boarding schools for the children of Bedouins in Homs, Rif Damascus, Deir al-Zor, Hama and Raqqah. It has established a fleet of mobile schools (caravans) which accompany the Bedouin children as they move with their families in search of pasture.
An out-of-school teaching programme has been devised by the Syrian Association for Social Development to provide information and knowledge related to the recipients’ needs to help them develop their critical faculties, creativity and initiative so that they can become responsible members of society. The out-of-school teaching programme covers academic and theoretical subjects such as geography, accounting, reading, writing, drawing, handicrafts, morals, biology, natural sciences, history, theatre and music. The Syrian Association for Social Development has also devised a vocational training programme to empower members of society, especially marginalized groups.
Second chance and poverty
Supported by the Capacity Development for Education (CapED) Programme and led by the Ministry of Education, a complementary learning programme is available in all governorates for pupils who fail their examinations. The Second Chance Programme was launched in 2017 and caters for primary-level students who have failed in four subjects. Over a six-week summer period, the programme gives them the opportunity to re-sit these exams and progress to the next grade. The programme also offers psychosocial support activities, taught by trained counsellors, helping children to overcome conflict-related stress and trauma. In 2018, 14 governorates took part in the programme. To date, 113,228 learners have benefited from the Second Chance Programme, of which over 50% were girls. To complement these interventions, UNESCO carried out psychosocial support training for counsellors and contextualized and produced 40,000 psychosocial support handbooks for distribution to teachers and counsellors. UNESCO also raised funds and rehabilitated 12 schools.
A special remedial educational programme called the Group B Module, developed in cooperation with UNICEF, targets children and adolescents between the ages of 8 and 15 who either have never been enrolled in school or are returning following an absence of at least a year. It includes children who followed rehabilitation programmes in centres run by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour and those referred to the education directorates. Those children and adolescents are accepted into special sections within primary schools. Then, depending on their level of education and in accordance with a plan devised by the Ministry of Education, they cover grades 1 to 8 in four years instead of eight. In a single school term, each pupil studies a module containing basic information for a full year. At the end of each term, the pupil sits an exam then moves from one grade to another grade at the same level. The Group B Module began to be applied at levels one and two (level one covers grades 1 and 2; level two covers grades 3 and 4) at the beginning of the 2015/16 academic year. The project has been implemented in 200 schools at the national level.
The Adult Education Directorate runs a number of programmes designed to combat illiteracy among children over the age of 14 who have dropped out of school, thereby also facilitating their access to information.
The Ministry of Education, with the support of the Danish Refugee Council, has distributed school bags and stationery to children. In the 2013/14 academic year, 300 school bags and a number of health kits were handed out in each school running the remedial education programme; 3,000 exercise books were handed out in each school running the remedial education programme in 2014. In addition, 4,800 school chairs were distributed in the governorates of Damascus, Rif Damascus, Daraa and Suwayda in 2013. Moreover, in collaboration with the Guba Association, 6,000 health kits and stationery boxes have been handed out in Damascus, 8,000 in Rif Damascus and 2,500 in Quneitra.
The Syrian Ministry of Education has issued instructions for the enrolment and admission into basic education classes of students who dropped out or who are migrants. Foreign students fulfilling those conditions are admitted in accordance with Article 10 of the rules of procedure governing basic education schools, as amended by Decision No. 13/443 of 23 August 2015. Non-Syrian students are admitted when they meet the conditions for enrolment in public schools: ‘Students from Arab or foreign countries are enrolled, on a conditional or final basis, at the basic education and secondary levels pursuant to Ministerial Communication No. 543/4375 (9/4) of 10 November 2008. Ministerial Communication No. 543/271 (4/9) of 25 January 2009 also specifies the conditions for admitting students with non-Syrian documents and the educational documents required to enrol them in the schools of the Syrian Arab Republic.’ Moreover, the children of migrant workers are entitled to enrol in state schools. The formal assessment and certification of the age of ‘Maktoumeen’ (unregistered) children is under the responsibility of school health departments, which can then enrol them in primary education, in accordance with established procedures.
A number of special schools for gifted students were opened by the Ministry of Education throughout the country in 1987. As many schools have been affected by the crisis in the country, new schools for gifted children have been opened in a number of governorates, including Al-Busiri Secondary School in Damascus, Al-Sanamayn Secondary School in Daraa, an extension to the school for outstanding children in Aleppo, Sahnaya Secondary School in Rif Damascus, a secondary school for outstanding children in Suwayda and another in the Jable area of Latakia. A National Centre for Outstanding Students welcoming secondary school students is located in Tishreen University in Latakia.
In 2000, the Ministry of Education established a unit dedicated to inclusion in education. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour provides protection and care services – including health care and education as well as moral, social and psychological guidance – to children who are deprived of care within their own families, on either a temporary or a permanent basis. It also oversees institutions for persons with disabilities, which exist in most governorates. The Ministry of Health seeks to guarantee the education rights of persons with disabilities with a view to integrating them into the school system and improving their access to inclusive education. The Syrian Association for Social Development has signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education under which the two bodies are to cooperate to reduce school dropout.
The Persons with Special Needs Act No. 34 was promulgated in July 2004 to clarify the role of different sectors and ministries in addressing disability issues and to identify ways of promoting cooperation between them. Article 9(7) of Law No. 34 of 2004 highlights the need to offer facilities to educate those with visual and hearing impairments in environments that allow for academic and social growth to the highest extent and potential possible. The Ministry of Social Affairs ensures that its resource rooms across its centres are fully equipped with the necessary audio-visual aid equipment to help teachers teach the official curriculum through full supervision of qualified teachers. Further, the 2008–25 National Plan for Disability includes among its key priorities the focus area of setting up needed institutes to serve those with disabilities and also ensuring that there is a qualified cadre to work in these institutes.
In partnership with the private sector and the government, UNICEF Syria supported an analysis of the need for rehabilitation of education infrastructure, highlighting the agency’s role in ensuring that schools are utilizing child-focused learning criteria and are accessible for children with disabilities. To this end, schools and learning spaces were rehabilitated and non-formal education alternatives (considered as a last, but necessary, resort for children who have no access to regular schools) were developed. The provision of learning spaces and non-formal education alternatives was complemented by relevant curricula and ad-hoc training for teachers and education professionals who can provide pedagogically engaging and high-quality education tailored to children’s specific needs, including those children who have suffered from trauma and need psychosocial support.
At the beginning of each school year, the Ministry of Education circulates guidelines to schools on how to welcome children into the education process while respecting their views, and how to establish parent councils and seasonal clubs. In this regard, the Ministry of Education has deployed initiatives to adapt the school environment for students with disabilities, applying a building code for integrated schools and supplying them with resource rooms adequately equipped with assistive devices for the integration of persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Social Affairs prepared curricula for various levels of mental disability and applied those in the special needs education institutes that it manages and that are dedicated to children with mental disabilities as well as curricula for technical and vocational training. Additionally, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Education apply formal/official basic and secondary education curricula to students with physical disabilities and ensure that these curricula are taught by specialized teachers. Finally, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education work together to apply and adopt curricula in various ways to cater for students with hearing impairments, visual impairments and various other forms of disabilities, ensuring that these curricula are accessible to all based on their disabilities and capabilities.
The Baath Vanguard Group was holding workshops in schools to demonstrate inventions by children with disabilities in the field of health care and treatment.
Article 9(3) of Law No. 34 of 2004 highlights the need to create specializations in education and health institutions to help develop the specialized cadres and frameworks needed for that sector to be able to serve children with disabilities.
Article 9(8) of Law No. 34 of 2004 stipulates the importance of employing teachers – including teachers with disabilities – who have good command of sign language and Braille, whenever needed. The Ministry of Education seems to also have a policy to recruit persons with disabilities to serve as teachers and other support and administrative staff. For instance, in fulfilment of the Ministerial Decree No. 15 of 2017 regarding the recruitment of persons with disabilities, in May 2019, the Ministry of Education recruited a total of 298 persons with special needs and disabilities as teachers, teaching assistants and staff members in various capacities. Under Decree No. 39 of 20 July 2008, teachers in remote or semi-remote areas receive compensation for the nature of the work they do there, the aim being to ensure that children in those areas have access to education.
Article 9(11) of Law No. 34 of 2004 highlights the importance of training teachers and staff at all levels of the education sector to create awareness about disabilities and to train them on the use of various methods, technologies and learning materials to support students with disabilities. The Ministry of Education also continues its efforts in training teachers and managing training of trainers’ programmes in areas such as learning difficulties, behavioural issues and inclusion of students with disability. In 2019, it recruited more than 100 trainers of trainers who specialize in these various issues.
In response to the state’s efforts to create awareness and legislation to help promote the rights of children with disabilities, in 2009 the University of Damascus established a Special Education degree which employs the latest globally recognized curricula for training teachers.
According to the 2017 state report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Ministry of Education has provided training on the Convention on the Rights of the Child to persons working in the fields of education and psychological guidance: ‘Resource-room teachers, coordinators for the integration of persons with disabilities, administrative and educational staff, specialized teachers and classroom teachers have also received training to enable them to work with the new curricula.’
A new module on strategies to protect children from violence is taught in the third year at the faculty of education for all specializations: classroom teacher, kindergarten teacher and psychological counsellor. The course, introduced by the Ministry of Higher Education, ‘covers the legal, educational and media aspects of strategies to protect children from violence of all kinds’.
Finally, the Ministry of Education Research Directorate has developed brochures on education inclusion as well as a mechanism for defining and dealing with disabilities. These tools, which help to improve the knowledge and skills of individuals who work with persons with disabilities, include a guide to education inclusion, a theoretical guide to learning difficulties, a resource room training manual and a guide on designing school buildings to accommodate persons with disabilities.
Syria has no national education monitoring report. It is unclear from the available laws and documents what types of monitoring and reporting mechanisms might be in place regarding inclusive education in Syria.