The Urban Impact: The Education System

 Advertisements for private English and German language tutors are found on streets across Irbid catering to both Jordanians and Syrians.

Advertisements for private English and German language tutors are found on streets across Irbid catering to both Jordanians and Syrians.

 
 

On paper, education to grade 12 is available for free for refugee children, but this has overburdened the school systems, and many financially well-off parents have begun putting their children in the numerous private schools throughout the city. For the majority of Syrians who can’t afford private schools, their children attend public schools that operate in the afternoon 12:20-4:30pm, while Jordanian students attend during the morning starting 8:00am. Only 12.8% of Syrian students are enrolled in the morning shift with Jordanian students, and a very low percentage attend private schools, which are distant islands for Syrians and low- to middle-income Jordanians alike.[1]

For numerous reasons, such as lack of belief education will lead to a good job, bullying and discrimination, and need to raise household income through child labor, across Jordan, only 23% of Syrian refugee children in non-camp settings are enrolled in school.[2] Also, it is illegal for Syrians to work as teachers, so students feel underrepresented and out of place in schools.

There is a low quality of education for both Syrians and Jordanians, in both private and public institutions. “I don’t like it here,” said one Jordanian student at a private Jordanian high school that has no Syrian students in attendance, “[it has] very bad instruction, very bad management, we can’t learn anything. I learn English by myself, playing video games.”

Syrian & Jordanian College Aspirations

When asking whether they wanted to go to college, both Syrian and Jordanian youth usually asked whether I meant a Jordanian college or a college in the US or Europe: they saw little value in the former, but saw the latter as a golden ticket to opportunity, although they also saw that ticket as impossible to earn because of prohibitive cost, the language barrier, and the need for a student visa.

Only 56 registered Syrians (21 male and 35 female) are currently studying at one of the major universities in Irbid governorate,[1] although observation and conversations with students suggests there may be a significant number of unregistered Syrians studying in universities, primarily at the smaller, lower cost schools like Jerash University. The trend in the past two years has also shown improvements: over the past two years, a good number of registered Syrian students have received scholarships at universities, such as Zarqa Private University and Jerusalem College among others.

 Zeus coffee, run by two Palestinian brothers, one of the many Starbucks knock offs complete with the green circular logo, dark wood furniture, and young people studying over expensive coffee drinks for hours.

Zeus coffee, run by two Palestinian brothers, one of the many Starbucks knock offs complete with the green circular logo, dark wood furniture, and young people studying over expensive coffee drinks for hours.

Language Learning

A dominant focus of education for both Syrians and Jordanians is learning foreign languages, especially Western languages. Good salaried jobs usually require working proficiency in English. However, the necessity to learn a language in university seems to have more to do with getting a paper diploma than actual ability. “Our classes are officially all in English,” said a Yarmouk University professor, “but as soon as class starts they switch to Arabic! Many of the professors barely read English themselves!”

Although they are expensive, private tutors offer a more effective means for learning foreign languages, the two most common being English and German. These courses are so ubiquitous a client can event choose between American and UK versions of English. French is much less common, but also available.

Universally, those we met who spoke English most fluently—from businesspeople to taxi drivers to shisha attendees—said they learned English not from formal classes but informally by watching movies, listening to music, having an English-speaking girlfriend, or among young people, from playing video games.

Education is widely cited as a critical component of refugee integration. But in Irbid, education for both Syrians and Jordanians is about upward mobility through opening doors to new opportunities not available in Irbid, either in Amman or in Europe. Educational attainment does not then achieve integration in Irbid, instead it provides the ability to leave Irbid.


The city has been impacted in eight other sectors:

Public spaces, housing, the security apparatus, jobs and the local economy, the healthcare system, the transportation system, water & waste management, and the impact of the presence of large INGO’s on the city.

[1] Al-Tamini, A. (2017). “Irbid: 50 evening schools to accommodate Syrian Students.” Mahaftat. Available at: https://www.alghad.com/articles/1811872-%D8%A5%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%AF-50-%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%8A%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86?desktop=1

[2] UNHCR, 2013