© UNICEF/UN070679/Al-Issa


Save Syrian Schools undertook direct interviews and focus group discussions with students, parents of students, teachers, school administrative staff, and local council members to investigate and understand the whole impact attacks on schools have on students and communities.

Here are the most relevant long-term impacts that emerged from the research:

Note: All names have been changed for security reasons.

Trauma and Fear

Intense psychological and emotional trauma experienced by both students and teachers was one of the most common themes that emerged in our research. With every plane heard flying above, students and teachers were constantly reminded of what happened, what they endured during the attack, and what may happen again.

“Every time I hear the sound of the plane, I remember the day of the massacre.…especially when I am at the school… The thing that I most remember is that I saw books with blood and I just saw a hand holding a backpack with no body.” (Nadeen*, Haas)

“Every time I hear the sound of the plane, I remember the day of the massacre.…especially when I am at the school… The thing that I most remember is that I saw books with blood and I just saw a hand holding a backpack with no body.” (Nadeen*, Haas)

Injury and Death

Interviewees talked to us about being too scared to go to school after experiencing attacks and watching their friends get injured and die. Salient on the minds of many are the lifelong impacts of chronic injury and amputations in particular.

15-year old Rand* from Douma recounted how she and three others were all injured by shrapnel when her school was attacked: “She [her neighbor, who is also a mother of a student] was standing when the cluster missile fell down. A piece of shrapnel hit her in the back and another one hit her daughter. She fell down and I did too, and my cousin died from a shrapnel that hit her in the neck.… They all fell on top of me.” Rand lost her leg in that attack.

The potential for death and injury does not end with the attack; in many cases, cluster munitions and other unexploded devices pose major risks for curious children.

“There should proper inspections at the schools to clear away the debris from the missiles that might hurt us.” (Madiha*, 14 years-old, Haas)

Direct and Indirect Damage to Education System

The damage to Syria’s educational system is vast. Hundreds of teachers have been killed; and many others no longer show up for work. Government forces have been known to make arrests at schools of students and teachers believed to be partaking in anti-government protests.

“I participated in political activity at the beginning of the revolution where I would design the picket signs, so my name came to the attention of the security system of the Regime and I was notified that I was fired. I was told that I need to review my status with one of the department in the ministry...of course, I didn’t it because it was a security department and I was afraid that I would be arrested and detained.…Instead, I went and talked to the principal of the school and I informed him that even though I am not getting paid anymore, I will keep teaching the class at least until the end of the school year.…I stayed for one year and then another one, then I was contracted by a non-governmental organization.” (Mustafa*, Teacher in Haas)

After so many years of war, the transportation infrastructure is fragmented, making it difficult for students and teachers to move between their homes and schools. Students and teachers do not attend school because they are afraid of being harassed, physically assaulted, or detained when they pass through makeshift checkpoints.

In terms of physical damage, the direct costs for rebuilding the country’s damaged and destroyed educational infrastructure is estimated to be around USD$1.3–3.2 billion. Extraordinarily high rates of drop out mean billions more in lost wages and immeasurable future costs to Syrian society.

Sentiments of Revenge

Many young people have grown up knowing nothing but war and have begun to internalize the violence they have seen on an almost daily basis. For some, this results in trauma and long term psychological consequences; for others, it breeds a mentality that violence must be met with more violence. Making matters worse, both government forces and allied groups, opposition armed groups, and extremist groups like Al Nusra Front and ISIS are alleged to have been actively recruiting young boys in particular.

“One of the students once told me, 'I still have six years of study to get my high school degree, then I need five years to graduate from college. I don’t want that, I want to kill the person who killed my father because I might die in one of the bombings one day. I want to hold arms and I want to avenge my father and all the other martyrs.'” Local Council Representative in Haas

Economic Need

Overall, there are currently around 2.3 million Syrian students out of school, and over a million more are at risk of dropping out. The reasons for this are many, high among them fear and trauma, as well as dire economic need.

“Due to the attack on the schools, there, there is a 30% dropout rate. This is also due to the decreasing family income where children have been leaving their schools to find jobs and help their families.” (Local Council Representative, Atarib)

Responses to fear and economic need can look very different for girls than for boys. Parents are more fearful of girls’ safety, which results in them being held back in higher numbers and married off at a young age.

“The parents did not allow their children to go back to school out of fear for their safety, the girls that did end up returning were close to 35% of the original number…The girls that I teach became distracted and fearful and they could not focus in class. Some of them did return and there were others that I was told that they got married.” (Teacher, Haas)

Community Resilience

Despite the negative impacts of school attacks, communities continue to demonstrate a strong desire to rebuild what was destroyed and make great efforts to ensure students still have a chance to learn. Communities have been proactive in implementing local initiatives to provide psychosocial support for victims, hosting campaigns to get students back to school, and creating alternative schooling mechanisms and informal learning circles to help make up for missed education and host students in safer locations like homes and even caves when the risk of attack is high.

“[The larger community] had a major role after the attack. Each person helped as much as they could offer to fill the gap that was made by the Regime. My wife and her colleagues, for example, organized classes in their homes as well as support session [for the students] to detach the notion of death from education.” (Nasser, Local Council Representative from Haas)

Children in a cave transformed by two former teachers into a class in Aleppo countryside. © UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2016/Ashawi https://www.unicef.org/arabic/infobycountry/syria_93026.html?p=printme


Stopping Attacks and Respecting International Standards

To parties to the conflict:

• First and foremost, all attacks on schools or attacks that lead to the destruction of schools and therefore, harm to children and other civilians, must cease immediately. Access to safe and quality education is a right and a non-negotiable for Syrian families and communities.

• Immediately pass domestic laws and military policies outlawing attacks on schools and their use by the military during conflict.

• All parties involved in the conflict must fully respect International Humanitarian Law, sparing and protecting civilian populations from the hazards of armed conflict and fully respect International Human Rights Law, especially, the Convention of the Rights of the Child and its Protocol of Children on Armed conflict;

• Clusters munitions have reportedly been used by the Syrian Regime and in Russian-Syrian joint operations. Both of these parties, as well as the others involved in the conflict in Syria should sign and ratify the convention and immediately cease using this form of munition.

• Hold accountable those responsible for these attacks on schools and provide justice – including reparations – to victims.

To International Organizations and UN Member States:

• A distinctive emblem that is both recognizable and visible is needed to protect schools from attack, similar to the emblems used to protect hospitals, vehicles, and those providing medical services and relief in armed conflict or to protect religious site and cultural heritage. An international agreement should be reached to create such a distinctive emblem, define how it can and should be used, and outline very clearly what obligations exist on the part of armed forces for respecting such an emblem. That IHL emblem should grant special protection to schools and children in the Syrian conflict and guarantee those schools and those children the special protection and respect to which they are entitled under international law. All countries signatories of the Geneva Conventions should be required to enact domestic laws and military policies prohibiting attacks on schools displaying the distinctive school emblem.

• Refer this report to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) in order to start full investigations into attacks on schools in Syria;

• The UN Security Council should act immediately in response to the attacks on schools, including by referring the situation in Syria for investigation by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

• All state parties should immediately sign the Safe Schools Declaration endorsing implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. In addition to considering all “feasible alternatives before attacking” a school or university, under Guideline 4(a), “Prior to any attack on a school that has become a military objective, the parties to armed conflict should take into consideration the fact that children are entitled to special respect and protection,” as well as “the potential long-term negative effect on a community’s access to education posed by damage to or the destruction of a school;”

Restoring the education process

• Immediately start rebuilding and repairing Syria’s schools and education system. Due to the massive loss of education, steps must be considered to accelerate the learning that has been missed; to recognize certain types of informal schooling; recognize tests or provide support and opportunities to prepare for and take qualifying exams that were missed during conflict;

• The impact on school curricula: Where schools are still operating, the curricula being used have started to vary region by region and subject to the whims of the controlling parties. This is especially extreme in areas held by ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates, but is true throughout. A peace process should include a rigorous reassessment of the national curriculum that not only gives every student the same quality of education, but also teaches about history in an unbiased way that does not glorify one side or another, but presents facts and sheds light on victims’ voices and narratives of justice, peace, and coexistence.

 • Teachers who are still in Syria should be supported and protected. This includes ensuring safe access to salary payments, freedom from harassment and attack, and support to schools so they have adequate materials and safe environments in which to teach.

Acknowledgement and Reparative Actions

• The Syrian Government and other parties complicit in or responsible for attacks on schools – including non-state armed groups and foreign actors with direct involvement in attacks – should issue a public acknowledgement of the harms they have causes to schools, children, teachers, parents, families and communities. They should issue a full public apology to all victims of these attacks.

• Provision of psychosocial support should be an immediate priority, as well as considered as a long-term need that must form part of relief and reparations measures.

• Loss of limbs has been a widespread consequence of violence and attacks. Long term medical support, rehabilitation, and funds for prosthetic limbs – including replacements as needed until children have fully grown – must be provided to victims.

• Incentives must be provided for teachers to return to Syria. For those who have started teaching in informal settings, the creation of some accelerated qualification program to allow them to use that experience and become teachers

• Due to the massive loss of education, steps must be considered to accelerate the learning that has been missed; to recognize certain type so informal schooling; recognize tests or provide support and opportunities to prepare for and take qualifying exams that were missed during conflict.