By Lisa Schlein
GENEVA — The UN children’s fund reports only half of Syria’s 4 million school children will be able to return to the classroom this month because of conflict and a severe shortage of money.
UNICEF reports more than seven years of war in Syria has put 1 in 3 schools out of use. It says many have been destroyed or damaged, while others are sheltering displaced families. Some schools are being used for military purposes in this war, which is estimated to have killed more than half a million people.
This year, UNICEF says more than 60 schools have been attacked. Despite the destruction of infrastructure, a severe shortage of teachers and lack of money, the agency says children eagerly go to school when they can. It says school provides them with a sense of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic environment.
But UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac says it is increasingly difficult, and in some cases impossible for children to go to school in areas of conflict, including Idlib where military action is intensifying.
“In Idlib, schools opened ahead of schedule in an effort to gain more instruction time as schooling is often suspended because of insecurity, shelling and violence. An estimated 400,000 school children, including 70,000 internally displaced students began the school year on the first of September,” said Boulierac.
UNICEF reports some 700,000 Syrian refugee children in neighboring countries also are unable to get an education, largely because there is little money to keep them in school.
It warns children out of school are at risk of exploitation, of early marriage, recruitment as child soldiers and of engaging in some of the worst forms of child labor.
UNICEF says it needs $135 million to run its school programs inside Syria this year and more than $517 million to keep education programs going in five neighboring countries of refuge.