Education in Syria
With a growing population, Syria has a good basic education system. Since 2000 the Government of Syria has significantly increased the expenditure on education 1 to 6. In 2002, elementary and primary education were combined into one basic education stage and education was made compulsory and free from grades 1 to 9.
Arabic is the medium of instruction in the Syrian Arab Republic. English is taught from grade 1 in the basic learning stage as the primary second language, and French is taught in grades 7-12.
According to the 2007 census, 98 percent of schools in Syria are public(state run), 1.8 percent are private,1 and 0.2 percent are United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools for children who are refugees.2
In 2007, there were 8 million students in the education system of Syria (4 million in basic education, 1.4 million in secondary and 2.3 million in tertiary). Given the current growth rate in the school age population, it is projected that by 2015, the education system in Syria will need to cater to an additional 1 million students in basic and secondary education. The school system in Syria is divided into basic and secondary education levels:
1st to 6th grade: Primary Education Level (Arabic: تعليم أساسي حلقة أولى)
7th to 9th grade: Lower Secondary Education Level (Arabic: تعليم أساسي حلقة ثانية)
10th to 12th grade: Upper Secondary Education (Arabic: التعليم الثانوي), which is the equivalent of High School.
The Government of Syria is also taking charge of providing pre-primary or early childhood education. Up until the early 1990s, ECCE programs were provided by mostly non-governmental institutions, of which few belonged to the government sector, while others were either private, or run by the Teacher's Syndicate, General Union of workers (GUW) or the Women's Federation.
In 1990 only 5 percent of the children between the ages of 3 and 5 were enrolled in 793 kindergartens. Ten years later 7.8 percent of that age group was enrolled. Furthermore, the data from the Syrian Ministry of Education shows an increase in the number of kindergartens from 1096 to 1475 in 2004.
The gross enrollment rate in primary education under basic education level in 2000 was 104.3 and it has been steadily rising, reaching to about 126.24 percent in 2007. Still, the enrollment of females is lower than males. The gender parity index, ratio of female enrollment to male enrollment, since 2006 was 0.955.3
The enrollment level in all programs at the lower secondary level has been rising significantly since early 2000, with the current gross enrollment rate of 95.3 percent.3
At the secondary lower level final exams of the 9th grade are carried out nationally at the same time. The result of these exams determines if the student goes to the "general" secondary schools or the technical secondary schools. Technical secondary schools include industrial and agricultural schools for male students, crafts school for female students, and commercial and computer science schools for both.
The upper secondary education is for 3 years from grade 10 to grade 12. At the beginning of the 11th grade, those who go to "general" secondary school have to choose to continue their study in either the "literary branch" or the "scientific branch". The final exams of the 12th grade (the baccalaureate) are also carried out nationally and at the same time. The result of these exams determines which university, college and specialization the student goes to. To do that, the student has to apply through a complicated system called Mufadalah.
There are wide regional disparities in post-basic education. There are lower secondary and university enrollments in rural than urban areas. Even the higher income households in rural areas do not have access to post-secondary education opportunities.
The secondary gross enrollment rate in 2007 stood at 72 percent, higher than the preceding years and one percentage point higher than the 2007 MENA regional gross enrollment rate at the secondary level.3
At the secondary level, the education system also includes three years of general or vocatinal education. Syria has a relatively large proportion of secondary school students in vocational schools; about 36 percent of total secondary school students in 2004 are in vocational schools. According to UIS the total enrollment in technical and vocational education (both private and public) in 2007 decreased to 103 from 113,994 students in 2006. Out of the total number, 41898 are female students enrolled in TVET.
In 1990s, the government aimed to increase TVET enrollment and at one time decided to allocate 70 percent of the lower secondary graduates to vocational schools, which meant doubling the share of TVET in total enrollment from 20 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2000. However, this later proved unsustainable. Then in 2000 a new policy stipulated 50:50 distributions of secondary students between general and vocational secondary education, and this was later decreased to 40 percent. Students enrolled in four main specializations:commercial,inducstrial, agricultural and handicrafts.The TVET system in Syria is very rigid with no options of reentering the formal school system .4
The Ministry of Higher Education was established in 1966 to supervise the scientific and educational institutions, such as, universities, academic councils, the Arabic Language Academy and educational hospitals.5 Most post-secondary education is state provided, but legislation passed in 2001 allows the establishment of some private universities and colleges. Resources for education have risen in absolute terms over the past decade, but it is difficult to match the rate of population growth. Colleges charge modest fees ($10–20 a year) if the student achieves the sufficient marks in his Baccalaureate exams. If not, the student may opt to pay higher fees ($1500–3000) to enroll. There are some private schools and colleges but their fees are much higher.
Domestic policies emphasize engineering and medicine in Syria’s universities, with less emphasis on the arts, law, and business. Most universities in Syria follow the French model of the high education, the university stages and the academic degrees are:
First stage: the License awarded after 4 years to 6 years depending on the field.
Second stage: the DEA or DESS 1–2 years postgraduate degree equivalent to the Master's degree in the American-English systems.
Third stage: the doctorate 3–5 years after the DEA or an equivalent degree.
Until recently 20 private universities have been given licenses, 14 of which have actually opened the doors and 6 to be opened soon.5 Private universities will have an independent academic and management structure representing the owner and will be headed by the president of the university. There will also be a university board consisting of either: chancellor, faculty or division. There are a number of private and public universities as well as few technical institutes.Some of the private and public universities are:
• Maamoun University for Sciences and Technology (MUST) - Al Qamishli and Aleppo
• University of Kalamoon - Deir Atieh
• The Arab European University - in Sahnaia, Damascus - Daraa Autostrada
• Damascus University in Damascus
• Al Furat University in Deir ez Zor
• Aleppo University in Aleppo
• Al-Baath University in Homs
• Tishreen University in Lattakia
• Syrian Virtual University in Damascus
Higher technical institutes
• Higher Institute of Marine Research
• Higher Institute of Water Resource Management
• Higher Institute of Business Administration
In September 2002, the president Bashar al-Assad founded the country’s first virtual university through which students can obtain degrees from international institutions. The university Called "Syrian Virtual University".
This measure and others, such as making computer literacy mandatory at the high-school level and English- and French-language instruction compulsory in the elementary schools, have the goal of equipping students with computer and language skills in order to modernize the economy through the education system.
Syria has shown great progress in providing access to basic education and to some extent, post basic education to the growing population. Still Syria has a long way to go to bring about a comprehensive change in the education system.
Access to pre primary level education is low in Syria when compared to other lower-middle income countries. The enrollment at the pre-primary level is 10 percent in Syria whereas it is 15.7 percent in the MENA region in 2007.7 Government of Syria has to make substantial investments in infrastructure to improve access to preprimary education. The government needs to prioritize expansion of schools especially in underserved areas with vulnerable populations. According to research findings, children of disadvantaged backgrounds are the ones that benefit the most from early childhood programs by developing basic skills necessary for employment thereby moving them out of abject poverty. Currently, most of the Early Childhood Care and Education services in Syria are delivered through private kindergartens and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in urban areas.
Despite increasing quantity of human capital through increasing access to education at all levels, the improvement of quality of the education and training system and consequently the quality of human capital is another challenge that Government of Syria needs to address. Weak growth in labor productivity over the past two decades has been associated with low quality and relevance of education in Syria. The results of International test scores TIMSS show that 44 percent of students who appeared in this international exam performed below the lowest international benchmark.8 Therefore there is a greater need to improve the quality of overall education system. This also involves the need to incorporate the use of communication and technology to better prepare students to the demands of the globalised world. Currently, Syria’s computer and internet usage is very low compared to a number of neighboring countries and is much lower than the average for lower middle income countries.9
Syria also faces high repetition and dropout rates. Repetition rate at primary level has been very high, almost 12 percent in 2006 and is steadily rising since 2003.At the secondary level, repetition rate has reached almost 20 percent. According to the latest data in 2004/05 the average repetition rate was 6 percent for grade 1-6, 13.3 percent for grades 7-9, and 7.3 percent for grades 10-12.Drop-out rates stood at 2.2 percent for grades 1-6, 8 percent for grades 7-9,and 7.3 percent for grades 10-12.Along with high repetition and dropout rates, a fairly low student –teacher ratio also signals internal inefficiency in the education system. The ratio in Syria is low due to the relatively high recruitment of teachers in comparison to the growth of students. The number of teachers grew at an annual rate of 7 percent between 2000 and 2006, which is almost twice the growth rate for students, which resulted in STR of 19:1 in basic education and 9:1 in secondary education. To increase the internal efficiency, the government should focus on hiring trained and competent teachers, reform the curriculum and develop testing, evaluation and measurement.10
Then the increasing unemployment rate, especially among youth, implies poor education quality along with lack of infrastructure to absorb the rising population. The youth unemployment rate in Syria stood at 19 percent in 2003.11 The current system is unable to provide with the skills and competencies demanded in the labor market. Therefore, there is a need to connect education institutions, especially higher education and vocational institutes, to the labor market and to align the curricula with skills that could increase employability of the graduates. Apart from improving the curriculum the government needs to make major infrastructure adjustments to absorb the rising population of the country into the already burdened education system. In 2007, the education system in Syria catered for about 8 million students. Given the current growth rate of 4.3 percent per annum of school age population, it is projected that by 2015, the education system in Syria will need to cater for an additional 1 million students in basic and secondary education.12
- TIMSS Encyclopedia(2008)
- "UNESCO Institute for Statistics database".
- "World Bank 2008.The Road Not Traveled: Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa.pp91.World Bank, Washington ,DC.".
- "Syrian Arab Republic. Ministry of Higher Education".
- "جامعة الجزيرة الخاصة". Retrieved 2009-09-29.
- "The World Bank,World Development Indicators".
- "Digital Access Index(DAI)".
- "UNESCO UIS".
- "International Labour Organization".
- "World Bank,edstats".
- Joshua Landis,"Islamic Education in Syria"
- Syria's Education and Research System profiles of people and institutions provided by the Arab Decision project