10 years of conflict: how Theirworld has supported the rights of Syrian children to education

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Syrian children at school in Lebanon, where Theirworld has campaigned and worked with local partners to provide learning (Theirworld / Hussein Baydoun)

Children in conflicts, Education Cannot Wait, Education in emergencies, Refugees and internally displaced people, Theirworld

A decade after civil war broke out, we highlight some of our reports, campaigning and projects with partners that have helped to keep the plight of refugee children in the spotlight.

By 2013 – just two years after the Syria conflict erupted – hundreds of thousands of children had fled with their families to neighbouring countries. Very few of them were in school.

The world was barely beginning to wake up to the long-term effects on an entire generation’s education and development. So Theirworld funded a team of experts to explore ways of getting as many Syrian children in Lebanon into school.

They proposed a “double-shift” school system to allow Syrian refugees and local students to use classrooms at different times. The UN endorsed the proposal and developed a delivery plan with the Lebanese Ministry of Education. Theirworld has campaigned to mobilise international support. So far, that system has educated more than 300,000 Syrian children.

Theirworld’s campaigning on safe schools – driven in large part by the Syria crisis – also led to the creation of Education Cannot Wait, the first global fund to deliver education in emergencies. We helped to bring together a coalition of more than 60 leading charities to call for a new mechanism and innovative ways to meet the education needs of children caught up in crisis situations. 

So far, Education Cannot Wait has mobilised more than $650 million, reaching 3.6 million children and 42,000 teachers in many countries.

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10 years and five conferences

The European Union will host the fifth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region on March 29-30. This year's event will be held online. March 29 will feature a Day of Dialogue between civil society, refugee-hosting countries, the EU and the UN. The following day is the Ministerial Conference.

These are significant success stories in the Syrian saga that has lasted for 10 years and caused the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Despite progress in the past five years, there are still more than 2.4 million children inside Syria and 750,000 Syrian children in neighbouring countries who are out of school, according to UNICEF.

For eight of those 10 years, Theirworld has been involved in helping to deliver education and hope to Syrian refugee children – through hard-hitting reports, innovative video content, relentless campaigning to keep the issues in the spotlight and by supporting projects with local partners.

“It is a tragedy for Syria’s children that we are still here in 2021 campaigning for their right to an education,” said Theirworld President Justin van Fleet. “A decade of conflict and displacement has left millions of children in Syria and refugee-hosting countries without an education and a future.

“Despite the promises of world leaders, these young people have been continually let down. Theirworld has worked for many years to ensure their plight is not forgotten – now we need governments and donors to step up and finally ensure that every Syrian child is in school.” 

Here we look at some of the highlights of Theirworld’s work for Syrian children.

Our projects

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Young children excited to be in the new building at the Tapuat centre on the Greek island of Lesvos (UNICEF/Greece/Iliaktida)


Refugee children often suffer from trauma after going through conflict and displacement. A project called Trauma Informed Schools – supported by Theirworld and run by the organisation Maya Vakfı – began in 2019 and has helped more than 1,000 teachers to understand the experiences and needs of Syrian refugee children. 


A pilot project was launched last year with the SKILD Center to bring more inclusive education to Syrian children, helping teachers identify and support children with potential special educational needs. The partnership with Theirworld also created a series of educational films with activities and advice for teachers, parents and children unable to access schools or specialists during school closures caused by the pandemic. 

Theirworld has all run a “tech hub” to improve technological skills for Lebanese and Syrian students, code clubs for girls aged 16 and 17 and a variety of emergency projects during the pandemic and school closures. The tech hub project with DOT (Digital Opportunity Trust) Lebanon is funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.


Theirworld, with funding from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, helped to provided education for refugees in the Greek Aegean Islands. We supported the creation of a new centre on Lesvos, on top of a broader project allowing partner organisations to send 5,500 girls and boys to school on the islands.

Our campaigning

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Syrian refugee children at school in Lebanon (Theirworld / Hussein Baydoun)


Within two years of the conflict starting, 1.9 million Syrian children had dropped out of school and 3,000 schools were damaged or destroyed. More than one million Syrian children were refugees. Theirworld launched a petition calling on world leaders at the UN General Assembly to ensure education for those children.


We called on the international community to back a plan to get one million refugee children into school in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Thousands signed our Hope for Syrian Children petition.


Ahead of the first Supporting Syria conference in London, actor Laura Carmichael and Soulayma Mardam, one of Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors, delivered hand-printed messages from young Syrian refugees – calling for education for every girl and boy affected by the conflict. Leaders at the conference pledged to get more than one million refugee children into schools in neighbouring countries.

Theirworld later called on the European Union to urgently release funds to help Turkey get all 700,000 Syrian child refugees in the country into school.


A year after the London conference, Theirworld tried to get a clear picture of what had happened to the promise to provide quality education for every child during this school year. Half of Syrian refugee children – about 800,000 – were still not receiving any schooling.


Magician Dynamo travelled to Lebanon with Theirworld and made a powerful film called 72 Hours about meeting out-of-school Syrian refugee children. He then confronted leaders at the annual Syria conference in Brussels and carried with him more 70,000 calls for action from Theirworld’s #YouPromised campaign.


Another year, another Syria conference in Brussels. And again we asked the question: What happened to the promise to get every Syrian refugee in school?


After last year’s Syria conference failed to prioritise education, a coalition of charities led by Theirworld accused the international community of “gross failure” to care for the 750,000 refugee children who are still out of school.

Our reports

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Turkish students and Syrian refugees are educated together at Istoc Primary School which was visited by Theirworld in 2017 (Theirworld)


Theirworld’s A World at School initiative and education expert Kevin Watkins – now CEO of Save the Children UK – produced the game-changing report Education Without Borders that advocated a double-shift school system in Lebanon. In the foreword, Gordon Brown – UN Special Envoy for Global Education – wrote: “The plan involves keeping Lebanese schools open day and night in a double-shift system; hiring Syrian refugees as teachers in Arabic in community colleges and providing school meals to tackle hunger as we tackle illiteracy.”


Progress was still slow, so Theirworld published a new report about Reaching All Children with Education in Lebanon which gave further details about how to fund and make the double-shift plan work. We followed that up later in the year with three new detailed reports about how to get more than one million Syrian refugee children into school in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.


Months after the pledge by world leaders to get all refugee children into school, that promise had not been delivered. A Theirworld report revealed they had just 60 days to come up with more than $1 billion of funding before the 2016-17 school year started.


Our research concluded that 20 million euros were needed to keep crucial educational programmes for children on the Greek islands running beyond the summer.

Our videos

Theirworld featured the talents of many young Syrian refugees – incduding the rapping Karbouj brothers – to support the Hope for Syria’s Young Talent petition – ensuring one million Syrian refugee children secured an education during 2016 in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Sheymaa, a 12-year-old Syrian girl living in a refugee camp in Lebanon, sent a message to leaders in the shape of a powerful poem about her experiences.

Theirworld made a video message to leaders – reminding them of their promise to Syrian refugee children.

Listening to children

In 2015, Downton Abbey star Laura Carmichael was deeply moved by a trip with Theirworld to Lebanon, where thousands of Syrian children are out of school.

Illustrator and author Nick Sharratt travelled to Lebanon with Theirworld the following year to teach Syrian refugee children how to express themselves through art.

In a special Syria episode of her Better Angels podcast, Theirworld President Sarah Brown talked to politicians and young people in 2017 about the challenges of educating refugee children.

How you can help

If you want to ensure every child has a safe place to learn, say you’re with us. Find out how.

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