Thousands of young children in Syria suffering from "toxic stress" levels have faced massive disruptions to vital education as a result of the ongoing conflict.
Details of massive disruption to schooling were reported today by Save the Children, who works with local partners to provide education, healthcare and other support across Syria. According to the UK based charity, an escalation in fighting has forced hundreds of schools across Syria to suspend classes over the past two weeks, with teachers sending children home in terror as bombs and shells fall nearby.
In a press release sent to MEMO, the charity said that at least three schools have been attacked in the past week, injuring children and destroying classrooms. In total 55 of the 60 schools and learning spaces that Save the Children supports in Idlib and rural Aleppo, which has nearly 20,000 children, was forced to close for days under the barrage of bombing that destroyed hospitals and civilian infrastructure.
Akram, who is a principal at a school in Idlib which had to closed all last week and has previously been bombed twice, said: "There has been heavy shelling for the last ten days, which has led to most of the schools closing and stopping their classes because of fear. There are air strikes, and the rocket shelling has been very intense and extreme."
Aya, a counsellor at a primary school in rural Aleppo, said:
The planes have attacked schools. The horrific attacks have impacted the students psychologically. There are cases of extreme panic and fright during class at the time the planes come suddenly – all the students start crying and become scared. They don't feel safe.
"They're extremely upset that they've been cut off from their studies. They think if they go to school, they might also lose their lives. If the situation remains like this or gets worse we will soon be seeing cases of depression. We might see illiteracy spreading. It's going to destroy the students."
Research earlier this year found children in Eastern Ghouta, in the suburbs of Damascus, to be in an extremely high state of "toxic stress" – caused by prolonged exposure to war, stress and uncertainty – and urgently in need of mental health care. Such conditions severely affect children's ability to learn.
Sonia Khush, Save the Children's Syria director, said: "Education in Syria is yet again coming under attack, and it is too dangerous to keep the schools open while bombs are falling all around. Schools close for a few days, then try and reopen, then have to quickly evacuate again. The teachers and our local partners are doing everything they can to keep children learning, but it's almost impossible with such disruption. Children must be able to learn in safety. Even when they can go to school, they are often too terrified to learn and concentrate."
More than 1.75 million children are out of school in Syria and, after six and a half years of war, many young children have never attended school. One in three schools are now out of use because they have been bombed, taken over by armed groups or turned into shelters for fleeing families.