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Photo caption: A Syrian man works on his laptop with a friend at al-Rawda Cafe in Damascus on April 28, 2009. Syria is facing an education crisis. A rising population is stretching the facilities, while rapidly changing demands of the domestic job market, notably English and IT skills, are outpacing university reforms. (Louai Beshara/Getty Images)
Syria is facing an education crisis. A rising — and young — population is stretching the facilities, while rapidly changing demands of the domestic job market, notably English and IT skills, are outpacing university reforms.
A demographic youth bubble is still passing through higher education while regional instability has added long-standing and more recent refugees to those placing demand on the system.
“This is one of the most stressed education systems in the world,” said an education consultant based in Syria, who has worked on education systems all over the world and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Those stresses include increasing numbers of students and a lack of capacity, a lack of international competition owing to outdated curricula and teaching standards and a lack of connection between the curricula and the labor market demands. There is also the bad use of financial resources and the psychological stress caused by rigid secondary school exams which determine university entry.
In the past, Damascus University was renowned around the Arab world for the quality of its education. Students came from abroad to study there.
But with 60 percent of Syria's population under the age of 25, overcrowding is now a perennial problem. With over 120,000 students at Damascus University (another 60,000 follow the open learning program), classes in some faculties are so large that often students are unable to attend lectures, and tests often have to take the form of multiple choice.
“It is impossible to talk to the lecturer or have any time to solve issues,” said one student who asked not to be named. Another, from abroad, said she believed she could have got a better education at home.
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More directly affecting the quality of the education is the teaching of unrevised content and skills. The assessment of the courses are determined by individual teachers with little quality control. Many of the courses rely on one textbook which is often outdated.
In addition, the majority of the teachers had Soviet-style training and are not equipped for modern education methods, according to a study on Syria by Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, based in the U.K.
It is affecting graduate's employment and further education opportunities — not just internationally but at home where new modern and international companies are demanding an increasingly standardized list of skills.
These include English and IT as well as general ability for teamwork and communication. While there is an effort to introduce these skills, most students at public universities graduate without proficiency.
“It is hard to find the skills we need,” said the owner of a large confectionery company in Damascus. “We take graduates and train them ourselves.”