"I Learn” Self-Learning Project: Challenges and Opportunities

Humanitarian Context

One-third of all Syrian children were born during war as refugees, their lives had been shaped by violence, fear and displacement.

Over more than six years, the disaster in Syria has led the international scene as the greatest humanitarian disaster after the Second World War. It left extensive devastation in large parts of cities that once were a cradle of civilization and displaced millions of safe people. Syria became the primary exporter of refugees with more than 3 million refugees.

The crisis has weakened the capacity of the education system to address critical education needs across the country and had a direct impact on all aspects of social and economic life. Dropping-out from basic and secondary education; and the denial of one of children’s basic rights, education, is putting children at increasing risk of exploitation, child labor, early marriage and recruitment into armed groups. Inside Syria, nearly 5.8 million school age children and youth (5-17) in and out of school, are in need of education assistance.[1]

 

Education Methodologies

The prolonged crisis in Syria left behind children from age (7-15) who never had access to school, dropped-out or missed years of school comparing with their peers.

Basically, Formal Education considered to be the most popular action of Educational Process. However, in emergencies and crises, if Formal Education can't be implemented, alternative methodologies that meet children's needs are assumed to be in place. These methodologies must be derived from the child's environment to overcome all obstacles that keep children away from school and leave them easy prey to ignorance and extremism.

Non-formal and informal Education forms like Accelerated learning, catch-up classes as well as self-learning played a key-role in Education response, particularly to those who missed years of their school and they aren't in an appropriate age to Formal Education because they are embarrassed to attend school with children not from their age group.

 

"I learn" Self-learning project

With the escalation of attacks on educational facilities, the lack of safe educational environments, as well as some social norms and traditions relating to the education of girls, furthermore, the enrollment of some children in the labor market to support their families due to economic difficulties[2], Ghiras Foundation[3] launched "I learn" self-learning project funded by Humanitarian Pooled Fund (HPF) in Aleppo and Idleb Governorates (cities, country-sides and camps) to increase access to Education for 2,700 of most vulnerable girls and boys.

"The methodology of self-learning is still new to the educational context in Syria. It was necessary to understand the methodology and to take into account the experiments in other places in the world in order to apply the methodology with correct manner" said Mr. Sabsabi, the Education Program Manager in Ghiras Foundation.

The implementation process was preceded by an assessment of the educational needs of most districts and camps in Aleppo and Idlib.

30 Teachers and Educational Supervisors (6 Males and 24 Females) conducted a survey in 10 locations in Aleppo and Idlib to stand on the educational fact and to predict the best Educational action to be conducted.

Ahmad Salibi, the Educational Supervisor clarified "Our Findings and Recommendations appealed for a proper response that focuses on improving literacy-Numeracy skills and takes in consideration children (girls and boys) between 6 to 12 years old who missed years of formal Education, dropped-out or have no access to educational facilities".

However, The response needed to be flexible with both of content and the place of implementation and also to scale-up access to education for marginalized girls in home effected with Social norms and traditions as well as boys and girls effected with Child labor and exploitation.  

Self-Learning methodology was the best answer for the afore-mentioned points that can meet demands and target vulnerable children (Girls and Boys) in their different environments.

"It was a challenge to operate with Self-learning since there were no bench-mark experiments in the Syrian context as well as a proper Educational Curriculum since the Syrian formal curriculum is inapplicable with this method" said Mr. Abdurrazzak, the project manager.

Ghiras foundation hired a committee of 10 Syrian Experts in teaching to review and analyze the Self-Learning Curriculum of UNICEF and UNRWA and to study the possibility of applying it to children between (6-12) years old.

 The Committee set a few Recommendations, most notably the Context of the Curriculum (i.e. the etiquette of Eating in Restaurants, Sightseeing tours, etc.) which can cause psychological damages to children (girls and boys) whether they were from Host community or IDPs in districts and camps.

Committee also evaluated the illustrations and designs of UNICEF curriculum and commented that designs are not in line with the technological development in our world, which may not seem encouraging to students and not attractive to them, hence, it could negatively affect the students' attraction to education.

Furthermore, Committee recommended that students in grades (7th to 9th) to attend temporary learning centres (TLC) rather than being educated in home since most of their Families and Caregivers are not scientifically eligible to follow up on the educational achievement of the beneficiaries.

By taking into consideration the recommendations of educational committee, and based on the scientific content of the UNICEF curriculum, Ghiras Foundation developed Supportive Materials to apply it with Self-Learning project targeting crisis effected children (girls and boys).

The materials (Textbooks) divided into three levels (Ready – Steady – go) with lovely pictures and delightful colors and illustrations. Each level covers: Arabic – English – Math and Activity book that contains questions and exercises of all the mentioned subjects to support the theoretical ideas with practices and to Increase student understanding and benefit from the information provided.

In addition to Supportive Materials, Ghiras printed a poster to be distributed to beneficiaries contains Arabic and English Alphabets and Multiplication table.

In 2016 HPF Allocation Round, the Education Cluster nominated the project to HPF Committee that accepted the project to launch the preparation phase of "I LEARN" Self-Learning Project.

Ghiras held capacity-building trainings for teaching staff and Educational supervisors, focusing on INEE minimum standards, classroom management and self-learning methodology. All workers in the project received training in mainstreaming protection to education.

Soon later, Back-to-Learning (BTL) Campaigns were launched to introduce the project and to encourage return to education in different locations of Aleppo and Idlib through holding meetings with stakeholders and community leaders as well as local councils and parents of students. The Foundation team announced the campaign through brochures, flyers, roll-ups, posters as well as conducting door to door Girls/Mothers Outreach Visits to raise up awareness about Education in the targeted areas.

In line with BTL campaigns, Educational personnel started registering students who have shown interest to join the educational process by filling out the manual registration forms to upload it later to Kobo program.

Implementation phase launched by operating with two modalities:

First, by establishing and equipping TLCs and dividing beneficiaries (Girls and Boys) to groups -per to age group- each Group visits the TLC three times a week in cities and districts.

In camps, Tent-classrooms were established and equipped to receive Children (girls and boys) with full school day activities.

In the second modality, teachers visit beneficiaries (girls and boys) with pre-arranged in-house visits. Children somewhere gather in small groups (3 to 5) whereas other sessions are individual. Teachers answer students' questions and inquires and move to another topics and ideas. The period of each session depends mainly on students' absorption and reacting and held on weekly base.

What the project about is to increase integration of families into Education process.

Educational Supervisors conducted in-house sessions for Parents/Caregivers to give them advices on how to follow up the students' achievement and to inquire about the main barriers if existed to eliminate it and encourage children efforts, also to measure their satisfaction about teachers' performance and commitment.

Before starting the process, beneficiaries (girls and boys) underwent to a post exam to evaluate their skills. Educational supervisors, to motivate beneficiaries, adopted AVERAGE – GOOD – VERY GOOD – EXCELLENT ratings for exams and skipped the POOR rating to promote children confidence and to encourage them doing more efforts in order to get the required skills.

Periodic exams were held after completing the Education process of each of the 3 levels.

By analyzing the collected Data, we found that %65 of beneficiaries (girls and boys) were able to spell and write the Arabic Alphabet, whereas %80 were able to count from 0 to 10 and make Addition and subtraction for one-digit numbers. Also %45 could write and spell English letters from A to F and count from 0 to 10 in English too.

 Results of the 2nd level exams showed expected improvement in both Arabic and Math and a slight enhancement in English. Analyzed data show that %60 could read and write some familiar words (i.e. Hospital, School, Police, etc.) and write their names as well as their parents' names. Also %80 were able to write and spell the Arabic Alphabet correctly.

In Math, about 70% could count from 0 to 100 and to identify some shapes and geometric figures. Percentage of development in English slightly enhanced since %50 of beneficiaries (girls and boys) were able to write Capital and Small letters from A to M and counting till 20 and also pronounce main colors.

The Analyzed data of the 3rd level exams show that approximately %70 were able to read short Texts at varying speeds, %65 could count to thousands and writing three digits numbers correctly and do Addition and subtraction to numbers with three digits and a lower percentage %45 were able to carry out the multiplication process for one-digit numbers.

The percentage of improvement in English remained low comparing with other Subjects as %40 of beneficiaries (girls and boys) could count from 0 to 100 and write and spell letters with correct manner.

 

How did "I Learn Project" changed the life of children?

"I couldn't bear being in different age with my classmates. I couldn't make friends there". Qusay, 9 years old, fled with his family to Atme camps and there he attended school for a month and later dropped-out since he couldn't adjust with being in the same classroom with 6 years old kids.

"I can't read and write neither can my wife. I didn't want him to have such a life."

Qusay's father registered his son in “I learn" self-learning project. He was into a group of children of the same age attending daily to tent classroom. By the end of 3rd level's exam, Qusay had gained minimum literacy and numeracy skills and became able to join school with his peers.

In Al-dana district in the rural of Idlib, Rahaf 12 years old was forced to drop-out of school.

“My parents don't want me to attend school anymore, they've heard about attacks on schools and they are worried to send me there, so do I"

Rahaf was registered into I Learn Project and she was receiving a weekly in-house session by teacher visiting her at home to follow up and support her educational achievement.

“My mom said that I'm young now, and it's not safe to go to school every day regardless the risk of being in school. I like my teacher, she is very kind with me"

At the last session, Rahaf wrote a letter to her teacher thanking her for what she's done.

 

Lessons learned:

After the completion of the implementation period, and through our evaluation of the project, we came to many of the positive opportunities that we should strive to develop, as well as weaknesses that we need to strengthen. Here are the highlights of these points:

  • It was the first experiment in north of Syria with no bench-mark and the Strategy of implementation was LEARNING BY DOING.
  • The project coincided with violent attacks on schools Left behind victims and injuries and resulted fear and anxiety for children as well as their parents/caregivers who refused to send their children to school, which encouraged them, as matter of fact to enroll them either with in-house sessions or TLCs attendance.
  • In general, parents/caregivers welcomed teachers warmly for the in-house sessions, whereas some of them seemed not interested after short period of the project, regardless of the camps, that were excluded from these sessions due to the lack of spaces as well as the suitable educational atmosphere.
  • Some parents seemed unconvinced by this type of learning as their children was attending TLCs on part-time, three days a week.
  • There are no regulations or laws that force students to commit attendance, but the desire of the student himself.
  • There were no technological means (i.e. projectors, audio or video clips, etc.) that used to clarify and promote understanding, only white-board and Markers because of the short of funding.
  • We found through the implementation that this methodology needs full academic year as (I learn) project duration was eight months within preparation period.
  • One of the most important things we have found is the great need to expand the project to include more children who hang around all day long because they have lost hope of learning after years of disconnecting with school as well as girls who were forced sitting in their homes deprived of their rights to learn due to social norms which leads as matter of fact to aspects like Child labor and recruitment, early marriage and regrettably, drugs addiction.

 

[1] UNICEF, MoE, ESWG Damascus, Syria Education Sector Analysis.

[2] Need Assessment conducted by Ghiras Foundation.

[3] Ghiras Foundation is a civil society organization, committed to humanitarian principles concerned with childhood development, protection and prosperity

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