Nearly half of Syrian children not in school: UN

GENEVA - Nearly two million Syrian children are no longer receiving an education, the United Nations' agency for children said Friday, representing around 40 percent of those at school age.

"For a country that was on the verge of achieving universal primary education before the conflict started, the numbers are staggering," Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for children's agency UNICEF, told reporters in Geneva.

Inside war-ravaged Syria more than 3,000 schools in the country have been damaged or destroyed, while nearly 900 were being used to house displaced families, she said.

"The education system has taken a beating," Mercado said, stressing that even "for the schools that are operating, there are not enough teachers, not enough classrooms, not enough resources."

Syrian children forced to flee to neighbouring countries have especially seen their access to education curtailed, she said, pointing out that few of the around one million Syrian children living as refugees in the region are receiving any schooling.

In Lebanon, for instance, the public education system has the capacity to teach 300,000 Lebanese students, but the government now estimates there will be almost 550,000 school-aged Syrians in the country by the end of the year.

During the first half of 2013, only 15 percent of Syrian refugee children were studying in formal or non-formal systems in Lebanon.

And only one third of the some 150,000 Syrian school-aged children in Jordan are getting an education, she said, using the example of the massive Zaatari refugee camp where there was space for fewer than half of the 30,000 children in need of schooling.

"Attendance is low, even among registered students, especially among girls," Mercado said, explaining that many stayed away due to a lack of security in the camp.

In Iraq, another destination for refugees, nine out of 10 refugee children living in host communities are not attending school.

UNICEF is working to bring Syrian children back to school across the region, providing for instance self-taught programmes to be used at home in conflict zones and setting up schools on buses in Lebanon.

The UN agency's education aid for Syrians remains desperately underfunded, having received just US$51 million (S$65 million) of the US$161 million it requested for 2013, Mercado said.

"The risk of a lost generation becomes more acute with each day that (Syrian children) are out of school," she warned.