Corona in Syria: Distance education is a fake procedure

Corona in Syria: Distance education is a fake procedure

Reports | 2 06 2020

Mais Katt - Loujein Haj Youssef‎‏|

The governments, which manage the areas of influence in Syria, claimed to provide distance learning tools for Syrian students, after the closure of schools due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but they did not provide basic services for millions of students and thousands of teachers to compensate for their educational losses in the country, making the possibility of pursuing the educational process with its minimum levels almost impossible. However, the authorities controlling the country do not recognize this, and they are instead working to broadcast an unrealistic "propaganda" about the continuation of the education process and the development of applications.
In this investigation, Rozana’s correspondents network inspected the educational tools provided by the various authorities controlling the Syrian territories and the extent of the students’ benefit from these tools on the ground. For this purpose, Rozana’s correspondents communicated with dozens of students, families, and teachers across the country, and carried out a careful survey to find out the extent of the success of the continuation of the educational process, but the results were shocking.

Absence of distance education system

As education has been suspended and schools have been completely closed for months, the Syrian government has provided a set of solutions for distance education. However, these solutions seemed only formal, while Syrian citizens hardly have access to electricity and Internet services, and if they have, these services are very expensive.
The Ministry of Education in the Syrian regime government launched a mobile application named "Education Window." More than 100,000 users downloaded the application, yet the latter did not obtain more than 3 stars for evaluation. By following up the evaluations, we found that students were complaining about their inability to connect with the application due to absence of the Internet. Students have also found technical problems in the application and they resorted to crooked methods to download it, since the Google Play application does not work in Syria. On the ground, all the students we have contacted from different Syrian governorates said that they do not use the application.

Some students take advantage of the videos published on YouTube, and some teachers download the videos from the Internet and send them in different ways to students. "I use the fast internet whenever possible, and I personally pay for it. I download educational videos from the educational channel website and send them to students via WhatsApp because playing video from WhatsApp is much less expensive for students," says Ahmad, a teacher in As-Suwayda Governorate.
All students and teachers, with whom we communicated during our trip inside Syria, did not obtain information related to the distance education system. Some teachers try to focus on students holding degrees through individual initiatives, as the teacher Ahmad did. On the other hand, students of the transitional classes remain without any attention or follow-up, especially since the Ministry of Education announced the automatic success of students of the transitional classes for the next year, without any exams or tests.
Rola, a mother who lives in Damascus and has children in different transitional classes, said that “since the closure of schools in Jdeidat Artouz in Damascus countryside, no teacher or school official has contacted us.” Roula asked her son’s teacher and he advised her to follow the lessons online.
Rasmia al-Ali, a 9-year-old girl living in Idlib, takes turns on one computer with her other brothers.{@@audio:1@@}
The situation is similar in Qamishli and al-Hasakah. Education has been completely suspended and there is almost no communication between students and their teachers. Abdul Ghani said that the rationing hours in Qamishli are approximately 12 hours per day, and that the Internet is very expensive compared to his current income. He, thus, tries to personally provide help to his children.
The Ministry of Education in the Syrian government has worked on the distance education project since 2007. However, the necessary infrastructure to circulate this project was not completed until 2011 and the implementation of the project declined with the spread of military confrontations in the country, as many schools were destroyed and some of them turned into military barracks for the regime's forces and its Russian allies, in addition to the economic downturn and the decline of services such as electricity and the Internet.

This decline has affected the students with the spread of the Corona pandemic. By following up the technical procedures on the Syrian Ministry of Education’s website, including the provision of online curricula, download of lessons though the method of mixed learning within virtual classes and the provision of direct communication with teachers through the educational channel, we found that they are all related to the provision of electricity and internet networks to the regions, which are services provided at a weak to medium level.
The Ministry launched the mixed education platform on March 19 for the transitional classes in the basic and secondary education levels, one week later from the date of the announcement of the first quarantine procedures. The Syrian Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority issued on April 2 a decision not to cut off Internet subscriptions for the late payers, a decision that came 20 days after the announcement of the quarantine procedures.
The response of the Autonomous Administration, which controls the northeast of Syria, was also late, as the Education Authority in the "Euphrates Region," which supervises 230,489 students, started posting the educational curriculum for the level three secondary students in its literary and scientific branches through video recording at the beginning of April, to compensate the students who stopped education due to the taken measures to prevent the spread of the newly emerging Coronavirus. The Education Authority accomplished 20 percent of the curriculum two weeks after starting it.
Education in shelters or camps suffers a very difficult situation, as the majority of schools became centers for refugees and those who have been displaced. Citizens are very poor to be able to pay the costs of the Internet even using mobile phones.
In al-Tuwaina camp in al-Hasakah, more than 1,700 students attend classes following three batches during one day, to reduce contact as much as possible. The situation is worse in the Idlib countryside, which is controlled by the Syrian opposition, because infrastructure is damaged, and villages are full of displaced people who live in overcrowded houses or in poorly served camps. All the teachers and students we met told us that the education process is almost suspended, and the teachers try to communicate with students in any way possible, but without any support from the competent authorities.
The story of the child Fahd al-Jassem who lives in a camp in Idlib countryside.{@@audio:2@@}
Maan al-Ahmad, the Head of the Information Department in the Hama Education Directorate, told us that they, as a government, have no plans regarding the secondary and intermediate certificates yet. Mustafa Haj Ali, the Head of the Information Department in the Idlib Education Directorate, said also that the Directorate has not yet adopted the method of conducting the exams, and that there are no possibilities for remote testing, especially since the students themselves do not have access to internet or devices at all.
The intervention of Maan al-Ahmad, Head of the Information Department in the Hama Education Directorate.{@@audio:3@@}

WhatsApp savior of education

 Many teachers continue their attempts to communicate with their students in every possible way, especially those who face the challenges of the preparatory and secondary certificate exams. The majority of teachers and students depend on communicating via WhatsApp, either individually or through groups due to the availability of it to the majority of students and their families, and the low cost of its use and ease compared to other applications.
Ali, from the city of Daraa and has two children in primary school, said that “at the beginning of the quarantine, there was no role for the distance learning system; we used to communicate with the teacher personally. The teacher sends the lesson to my wife and she sends back the recorded answers to her. The expenses were about 20,000 Syrian pounds per month, as she needs to charge her package every two days with an amount of 1,000 Syrian pounds, which were not sponsored by the Ministry of Education in the government of the Syrian regime.
All the teachers we met are using WhatsApp as a basic and almost single way to communicate with their students. Teachers think that WhatsApp is the least expensive service, especially when it depends on written conversations, and it is also available to most students, whether on their mobiles or their parents’ phones.
Male and female teachers have created chat groups for students on WhatsApp; the teacher sends his questions and students answer via text or voice messages. Sometimes, they are asked to do homework and they have to write and take a picture of it, so the teacher can see the work.
Watch how a teacher talks to his students on WhatsApp in this video.
The use of the WhatsApp application is an individual initiative taken by teachers, at their personal expense, due to the absence of any support from the competent authorities in all Syrian regions.

For the rich only

Students, who are better off financially in Syria, have the ability to access Internet and electricity services more than others, because the costs that most Syrians are unable to afford, a few well-off people can afford.
The areas of major city centers enjoy better internet services than others, and the hours of rationing electricity are organized much less than in poor areas. Private schools offer more care, and a closer follow-up to distance learning.
Internet services vary according to the infrastructure of the subscriber in the district. Internet services in central Damascus differ from other regions, and although you may pay for the same package, the same amount and the same services, your experience as a user in Damascus is much better than your counterpart in the Homs countryside, for example.

Mounir and his wife live with their son, who is preparing for high school exams in Latakia. The parents decided to allocate a private teacher for a number of subjects and they pay large sums to secure this. Mounir actually opened a private school for his son at his home. He said: “Accessing the applications designated by the Ministry of Education is very difficult, but the private teacher is the best option right now.”
We spoke to mothers of students studying in private schools in Damascus and Homs. Raghad said that the teacher communicates with her daughters on a daily basis to give assignments and lessons, and that she is following up with her daughters online lessons on YouTube, and of course Raghad pays the expensive installments without any change. As for Samar, she said that her two sons have computers, and she follows up learning with them online accurately.  “My daughter is a baccalaureate student, it was so quick,” added Samar. “I hope a strange virus will come next year and we will succeed without exams,” asserted Rania, Samar's daughter.

The governments are staggering
The educational process in Syria is run by four different government councils with political references, and the response of these councils to the COVID-19 pandemic varied in terms of precautionary measures and measures taken in relation to the education sector.
The Autonomous Administration and the government of the Syrian regime transferred all transitional students in the primary and secondary grades to the higher grades without any exams, and asked the Ministry of Education to draw up a plan to compensate the educational loss of students at the beginning of next year.
The Government has set dates for the two certification exams through only one examination cycle, and the supplementary session was canceled. It also modified the question form by adding optional questions to students in each exam, and increasing the time between exams.
The Ministry of Education in the Government of the Syrian regime opened the reinforcement and review courses for the ninth grade students, “Basic Education Certificate,” in all the Syrian governorates, in cooperation with the Regional Office of the UNESCO in the Arab States.
The Interim Government's Ministry of Education decided to transfer the transitional students in the primary and secondary education stages to the next grades, based on the adoption of the second semester's result to be the same as the first semester.
It also continued the distance learning process without any prior training in this type of lesson.  It launched its own YouTube channel for school subjects with a two-month delay from suspending school hours, while the relationship of teachers during this period was restricted to communicating curricula through the application of WhatsApp and recording lessons through videos and sharing them with students.
The educational departments participated in adopting the curricula that students received, up to the date of the suspension of school attendance for the annual exams for secondary certificates and basic education.
The Syrian opposition's Salvation government is still staggering, and as of the date of the end of the investigation, May 22, 2020, no final decision has been taken regarding the examinations of students in the transitional period.
In 2013, the United Nations warned that about two million Syrian children are out of school and are like the “lost generation,” to return after three years and say that it mourned the situation of children in Syria. The organization said, in its report “No place for Children,” that more than eight million children in Syria and neighboring countries need humanitarian aid, while the international response plan for Syria crisis suffers from a chronic lack of funding.

This investigation has been conducted with the participation of colleagues:
- Head of Rozana Foundation's correspondents network: Mohsen Ibrahim
Rozana's correspondents across Syria: Abdullah al-Khalaf - Mahmoud Abu Ras - Ahmad Khadhur - Mohammad Suleiman - Hassan al-Hussein

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