A Formal Education Shortfall
According to the United Nations, education is a fundamental human right. In Jordan, we visited two schools, a formal school and an informal school. Formal schools are accredited by the Ministry of Education and can give certificates to their students. Informal schools on the other hand are not accredited by the Ministry and their education is thus unrecognized by the government. According to Human Rights Watch, one-in-three Syrian refugee children registered with the UN did not receive a formal education in 2015. With the large influx of refugees in the past several years, government schools have been overwhelmed by the number of students and have resorted to a 4 hour school day during the morning hours.
To account for the influx, international NGOs have come in to provide education to those who are not enrolled in the government schools. The price? Students will not receive recognition for it. On most accounts, the education that these schools provide is better than that of formal education. This is embarrassing for the Jordanian government thus providing no incentive for them to accredit these schools.
One of the NGOs that is filling the gap is the Middle Eastern Children’s Institute (MECI). They are primarily funded by UNICEF and have rapidly expanded from three schools to twenty schools in the past few years serving vulnerable communities in Jordan. MECI primarily aids Syrian students with some remedial education for Jordanian students. Their numbers show a high improvement for all of their students making them one of the best education providers in Jordan. MECI, however, is not accredited with the Ministry which has actively slowed down their expansion into new areas.
Iraqi, Somalian, Sudanese and other refugee populations may not receive any education as they are largely unrecognized in Jordan. Most international money and attention is currently given to Syrian refugees regardless of the fact that many of these other populations may be more vulnerable. For those who are able to go to formal schools, Syrian refugee students do not have to pay for their education fees whereas Iraqis and other refugee populations do.
These issues give rise to a series of questions that the Jordanian government and international NGOs are contending with. What does it mean for people who are informal citizens of the world to receive an informal education? Whose responsibility is it to fund and provide such an education? How do you provide a quality education to all refugee populations? How can you improve the education of formal schools which are often understaffed and overpopulated?
Currently, the answer to many of these questions is for these informal schools to operate in a supportive role to formal schools. In other words, the school will continue to provide support for refugee students until they enroll in a formal school. There are conversations among NGOs and the Education Ministry around whether students should be able to test into a grade to allow for students who are accelerating to skip grade levels. In my opinion, a path for informal schools to become accredited would help with the influx. Furthermore, formal schools should try an adopt some of the social and counseling methods of informal schools to best accommodate students and their learning methods. Finally, informal schools should look to bring in more refugee populations into their schools. Regardless, in order for a formal education to be provided to every student some major restructuring must occur.