A second chance at education: Aya's journey back to education

©UNICEF Jordan

Aya, 18 years, left her home in Syria in 2013 and moved with her family to Irbid, Jordan. Once they settled in their new home, Aya enrolled in the fifth grade, where she left off in Syria. While trying to integrate in a new environment, Aya struggled with bullying and discrimination by the other children. Coupled with the stress she was already experiencing after leaving her war-torn country, her classmates’ unfriendly welcome pushed Aya to drop out of school.

“My mother was completely against the idea, but I kept insisting, because I didn’t want to go to that place anymore,” said Aya, who lives with her mother and four younger siblings. She was out of school for more than four years and eventually started helping her mother with her home cooking business – the only source of family income after her father had left them in Syria.

“This also affected my decision to go back to school. I felt responsible for supporting my younger siblings. I tried to find any job, but it was impossible, because I didn’t have a school certificate or work experience.”

For most school dropouts in Jordan - especially refugees - it is difficult to find a legal job or even formal training. Sometimes, they are forced to take underpaid or dangerous informal work.

“After staying home for a while, watching my friends and neighbors going to school made me start rethinking my decision.” “I realized that I’ve missed out on a lot. I definitely regretted leaving school.”

After spending over three years out of education, Aya had the option to enroll in an education drop-out programme.

“I learned about the programme two years ago. I was very excited about the idea of continuing my education, so I enrolled right away.”

UNICEF’s Non-Formal Education (NFE) drop-out programme targets children aged 13 years and above who have been out of school for more than three years, and thus not eligible for formal education.

©UNICEF Jordan

After completing the programme, adolescents receive a document equivalent to a 10th grade certificate, which enables them to access vocational and technical training, formal education, or work opportunities. The programme utilizes a participatory learning methodology, which emphasizes question-asking, critical thinking, and dialogue.

“When I first came to class, I knew absolutely nothing, but the teachers and the other girls were very kind and never made me feel out of place. They started with me from the basics and were very patient.”

On March 15th, the Jordanian government imposed a full lockdown in response to COVID-19, initiating a temporary closure of schools. To ensure that children continue learning, all NFE students switched to online learning.

“The lockdown period was extremely difficult for everyone. Even though the teachers did their best to explain everything to us, we still missed our classroom and the face-to-face interaction between us.”

“Returning to school wasn’t easy, and after getting used to it, I was asked to stay at home again. It was very difficult.”

To Aya, learning from home reminded her of the years she spent away from school, but she tried her best to stay focused on her studies.

“I followed the online classes almost daily, but sometimes we would lose internet connection. I used to call my teachers and they were kind enough to explain the class to me over the phone.”

Jordan has a very young population, with nearly 2.5 million school-aged children. The influx of refugees has increased the number of out-of-school children in Jordan. According to recent studies, nearly 26,000 Syrian and 20,000 Jordanian adolescents aged 12-15 are out-of-school.

Since 2016, UNICEF-supported drop-out centres have increased from 62 to 169 and are implemented through four UNICEF-funded NGO partners.  Prior to COVID-19, the programme reached over 5,000 vulnerable adolescents across the three cycles in 2020. Cumulatively, the programme has reached over 19,000 children.

UNICEF will continue to support vulnerable boys and girls in their return to school in cooperation with the Ministry of Education. UNICEF'S NFE programmes are supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands through the PROSPECTs partnership.