By Yasmeen Shahzadeh and Dr. Oroub El-Abed
January 24th is the International Day of Education. The significance of this day is monumental: it is a celebration of the power of education to bring peace, to encourage sustainable development, to create opportunities, and to empower generations.
For many around the world, access to education continues to be a challenge. In Jordan, the question of access to education is ongoing. The Syrian crisis and the arrival of over one million refugees to Jordan has created undoubted strain on the country’s education resources and capacities. According to most recent estimates, 40% of Syrian refugee children are out of school, with a smaller but significant proportion of Jordanian children out of school as well. Often the families of these children cannot afford the cost of school fees or transportation. Many of these families are in need of an additional income to the household, leading children to seek employment to help make ends meet.
New Efforts and Opportunities
In cooperation with the Jordanian Ministry of Education, there have been several efforts and projects to offer non-formal education programs to children out of school in an effort to eventually bring them back into the formal education system. Moreover, a high volume of funding is being channelled into projects to provide informal educational courses for those who missed out on school education. These courses seek to provide basic education to youth to support them in their everyday lives.
Several factors have created challenges for youth attempting to access quality education. The commodification of education, increasing since the 1990s, has impacted both price and quality of education negatively. Classrooms are overcrowded and teachers are often unable to manage such large groups.
There is a shortage of teacher training and continuous professional development programs which have a clear impact on educational staff and student experiences.
Not only has this impacted educational levels of accomplishment among students, it also has impacts on students down the line: students entering universities are increasingly disinterested and disengaged.
Research at Work
One research project in Amman, Jordan, seeks to understand just how important education can be for youth’s trajectories, livelihoods, and beyond. Funded by the IDRC and ESRC, the research project ‘From Education to Employment: Youth trajectories in Jordan and Lebanon in the context of protracted displacement”, culminating in the coming months, has explored the opportunities and challenges youth experience in their life trajectories and how this has affected their sense of agency. The project seeks to study the drivers that affect the life trajectories of young Jordanians, Syrians, and Palestinians (who do not hold Jordanian citizenship) between the ages of 15 – 29, focusing on youth in the Governorate of Amman. The research team in Jordan mapped out the main actors in Amman working with this age group focusing on education (formal, informal, or non-formal) and employment (formal, informal, and entrepreneurial). Then, the team conducted a survey with 700 young persons from Amman, and is currently conducting qualitative interviews to voice out the perspectives of youth on the ways they have led their lives and the main turning points that have affected their choices. Research findings will be analyzed in a participatory approach in focus group discussions aiming to engage with the youth and reflect their own views on the challenges they encounter and opportunities that are available for them in their futures.
On this International Day of Education, it is important to reflect on the importance of youth as drivers of change and as persons with agency. Youth every day are making choices that impact their educational journeys whether positively or negatively.
As researchers, we can consider youth’s agency in making such life-altering decisions in pursuit of better livelihoods. As service providers, we could reconsider what it means to create equal and accessible education programs. Lastly, as advocates, we should privilege the voices of youth and reaffirm our own commitments to call for action on a global scale in pursuit of an education for peace and for development.