High school students struggle with exams in Syria’s IDP camps

HASAKAH, Syria (North Press) – In a tent in Sere Kaniye Camp, in a barren stretch of land west of northeast Syria’s Hasakah, third year secondary (grade 9) student Suleiman Dawi looks over his schoolbooks as he recounts his last exam.

Suleiman describes the last school year as insufficient, explaining that foremost among the many difficulties school-aged IDPs in the camp face in receiving an education is the recent coronavirus pandemic, which closed many schools for long periods of time.

Deprived of education

Around two million children in Syria do not attend school, and attendance rates at schools across the country plummeted with the start of the war with thousands of schools destroyed and teachers fleeing the country, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In northeast Syria in particular, the Turkish occupation and invasion of Sere Kaniye, Suleiman’s home, has taken a toll on an already-pressed school system. Beginning in 2019, many internally displaced people fleeing the invasion settled in schools near Syria’s Tel Tamr, halting education in the region for months.

There are also physical challenges that prevent Suleiman and fellow students from receiving a proper education. The days are sweltering and the nights are pitch black. The camp is crowded and cramped, and the shortage of water and lack of electricity effects students psychologically, according to Awaz Hakim, an English language teacher from the camp.

“You tell them to come study; by 10 a.m. their water is gone. How can they study in this heat, under the tents? How can they focus?” he wondered.

Hakim adds that to attend the exams, students have to walk up to five kilometers to reach their schools.  He further explains that a shortage of teaching staff as well as the coronavirus epidemic and the delay in opening the school aggravated the situation.


Few have a positive outlook on the results of the upcoming exams for these IDP students.

“Every subject had 50 questions; we couldn’t even answer one,” Suleiman says. “We sit the exams, but there is no benefit from it.”

Bashir Dhifo, the father of a middle school student in the camp, missed his exam entirely due to the lack of transportation. Dhifo says, though, that he does not expect many of the 98 middle and 12 high school students to succeed this year.

He added, “I am not only talking about my son; all the students in the camp suffer from the same problems. How will they take exams when they do not have books?”

Mother tongue

Despite the hardships in obtaining an education, Hakim says that students are passionate about studying, especially those studying the Kurdish language.

Prior to the establishment of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the Syrian government only allowed Arabic to be taught and spoken in schools; this year was the first year that students in the Jazira region were able to sit exams in their mother tongue. Hakim explains that the novelty of studying in one’s own language is exciting and motivating for the students.

“Everyone loves their language. I love my Kurdish language. Even after we abandoned our homes in Sere Kaniye, we did not give up. We insisted that we should study in our mother tongue, though we were destroyed,” he says with a sad smile.

Reporting by Dilbreen Moosa