What happened to the promise to get every Syrian refugee in school?

Syria You Promised Update Main
Syrian refugee children at an informal learning centre in Lebanon (Rosie-Lyse Thompson / Theirworld)

Children in conflicts, Education funding, Education in emergencies, Refugees and internally displaced people

On the eve of a third Supporting Syria conference in Brussels, we look at the story so far on the 2016 pledge to deliver education to all.

Eight years ago, civil war broke out in Syria and has raged ever since. Most of its victims have been the innocents – families uprooted and fleeing their homes, and children whose lives were turned upside down.

One result is that a third of school-age Syrians – about three million – currently are denied an education. They include over 800,000, or 40%, of  the refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

Three years ago, global leaders met at a Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London and promised to get every child into school. There has been progress but that has now slowed down. School enrolment in host countries rose only slightly from 1.09m in December 2017 to 1.14 million in December 2018.

Theirworld’s #YouPromised campaign has been pushing since 2016 for the pledge to be kept. You can sign the petition here…

Tomorrow the latest Supporting Syria conference will begin in Brussels. It will aim to raise funds from international donors – but it must also tackle the broken promise made to hundreds of thousands of children in 2016.

So how did we get here?

February 2016

World leaders meeting at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London promise to provide the funding to get one million Syrian children in school during the 2016-17 academic year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announces pledges of over $10 billion  – “the largest amount of money ever raised in one day in response to a humanitarian crisis”.

August 2016

With 60 days to go before the school year starts in the region, Theirworld launches the #YouPromised campaign. We publish a report that reveals an urgent funding gap, with just a fraction of the $1.4 billion pledged at the conference having materialised.

September 2016

The Syria conference co-hosts hold an update meeting. Theirworld President Sarah Brown tells them more than 30,000 messages have been sent to them on social media.

October 2016

Theirworld report says 370,000 Syrian refugee girls – more than 60% of girls under 18 – living in Turkey are out of school. It says action is needed to overcome gender barriers.

You Promised Campaign Picture

January 2017

Theirworld investigates what has happened in the year since the 2016 conference. We uncover the lack of a clear and coherent overview of how the promise to get all refugee children and vulnerable children in the host communities into school in the 2016-17 academic year is progressing.

February 2017

UN education envoy Gordon Brown tells a UK parliamentary inquiry:  “We’re still one million kids short. We’re still $1 billion short.” Another Syria conference is announced, to be held in Brussels in April.

The co-hosts of the London conference deliver a report on funding progress and promise to track the pledge to get all refugee children in school.

April 2017

Ahead of a major meeting of world leaders in Brussels, Theirworld supporters send messages telling them to keep the promise to the more than 500,000 Syrian refugee children who are still out of school despite major progress.

The conference hosts re-commit to their goal of “getting all refugee children and vulnerable host children in quality education” – and pledge $6 billion to the overall humanitarian response.

October 2017

Theirworld launches a series of short films filmed by Syrian refugee children to tell the story of their lives, using video cameras that we gave them six months earlier. Watch Asmah, Bassam, Rojin and Mustafa tell their stories.


April 2018

Theirworld and magician Dynamo travel to Lebanon to meet Syrian kids who have been left out of school and let down by world leaders. With more than 680,000 still waiting to go to school, we release his powerful film telling their stories. 72 Hours is watched by more than five million people.

Dynamo then makes an impassioned plea at the Brussels conference for global leaders to keep their promise to get every Syrian refugee child into school. He tells them: “Education is the closest thing to real magic that you can give a child.”

Alongside Dynamo at the special meeting on education for Syrian children is Theirworld founder Sarah Brown. She thanks the governments of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan for “working so hard” to accommodate refugee children in their schools. 

September 2018

Ahead of a crucial United Nations meeting on refugees, it emerges that education programmes in Jordan have been slashed – affecting 45,000 vulnerable Syrian refugee children.

As the result of a funding gap of $8.6 million, only 10,000 Syrian refugee children out of 55,000 eligible children will continue to get financial support from UNICEF.

December 2018

The number of Syrian refugee children enrolled in school in Lebanon has stalled at the same levels as the 2017-2018 school year, says Human Rights Watch. Fewer than half of the 631,000 school-age refugee children are in formal education, with roughly 210,000 in donor-supported public schools and 63,000 in private schools.

March 2019

A report says the international community exceeded by almost 40% the aid pledged at last year’s Brussels conference. EU member states and EU institutions contributed US$4.7 billion in 2018 – 56% more than their original pledges.

The latest Brussels conference on Supporting Syria and the region is held from March 12 to 14.

Theirworld and our supporters have managed to keep education at the centre of world leaders’ discussions of how to prevent a lost generation at the Brussels conference on Syria. 

Education is the best way – the only way – these children will have the chance to plan for a better future. Now leaders have to keep their promise and deliver education for every Syrian child.

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