What's life like at school in Syria?

Image copyright BBC SCHOOL REPORT
Image caption The Grey Coat Hospital School Reporters: Becky, Stella, Kitty, Phoebe, Tyana, Alisha

School Reporters from London have been finding out about life for teenage refugees at a UN-run school in Syria by speaking to them via Skype.

School days are shorter and subject choices are limited at the Haifa School in Damascus, but despite the ongoing conflict, education continues and teenagers taste in music remains the same as the School Reporters from Grey Coat Hospital School explain.

School life in Syria

Geography lessons have been a bit different for us since the start of term as we've been taking part in My Voice My School project and speaking to students in Syria.

Image copyright United Nations Relief and Works Agency
Image caption Haifa School pupils travel to the UNRWA office in Damascus to take part in a Skype call to the UK

We didn't know much about Syria before we started. We had heard on TV that there was a war or some sort of conflict and we also knew that what was happening in Syria could affect schools and pupils' education. But we didn't actually know what the situation was like for people living in Syria.

Some of us thought that maybe, if children were lucky, they would go to school if they weren't in a conflict area, but none of us realised that in refugee camps they set up temporary schools. They aren't as easy to access as their normal schools would have been and students are of all different ages.

Image copyright United Nations Relief and Works Agency
Image caption Haifa School pupils spoke to the students in London via Skype

We didn't know much about the people and how they felt about it. We were really interested in finding out about the students our age at Haifa School in Damascus and their situation.

Were they scared and frightened about what was happening? Did they have to be moved around a lot? So we had lots of questions for our first Skype call.

We asked them about their education, what they did at break-time, what they did at lunchtime, what their favourite sport was and what their favourite lessons were. And they were the same with us, they wanted to know what lessons we had too.

When we told them all of our subjects, our list seemed really long. They told us they did English, French, Maths, Arabic and science. Compared to us that's kind of weird because if you think about our GCSE's, we have so many subjects we can choose from.

We told them we also have lessons in things like music, and product design and graphics, and they really wanted to know more about them and what you do in those subjects. It made us feel like they weren't going to have the opportunities that we get or be able get the education that we get.

Image copyright United Nations Relief and Works Agency
Image caption Pupils at Haifa School had to travel to the UNRWA office to get internet access to call the UK

'Surprising' career ambitions

The students in Damascus have less school equipment than us and are taught in just one classroom. They also start school very early but finish at 12. They don't have a full day of school but they want to. It makes you think how lucky we are to have what we do.

Even though we often say we hate school and we wish it was shorter, we don't really, and talking to the students in Syria made us feel so lucky to have our education.

We also talked about what we wanted to do in the future. Some of the students said they wanted to be a pilot, an architect, an engineer, and one said they wanted to be a doctor.

This surprised us a bit as we thought that everything in their life was quite limited for them but when we heard they wanted to do some of the things we wanted to do that was interesting.

It was also interesting that they are more sure about what they want to be than us - maybe because we have more options so change our minds all the time?

Image copyright PA
Image caption The British pupils were impressed the refugee students had heard of One Direction

One girl also told us she likes One Direction! To start with we were quite surprised that they knew about One Direction as we didn't think they would be able to get internet access easily, especially as refugees. But it was also good to hear, because what they do is what we do - it's normal.

Some of the students talked about wanting to come to London, one of them wanted to travel and see lots of different places and that is very similar to us. That's pretty cool and if they have the opportunity to come to London then we would all be very welcoming and really like to meet them.

Life beyond school

We are planning to speak to them again and now we know a lot more about their school life we want to find out about what they do outside of school, all about their families and what they wear and about where they live, as well as what they like to do.

We want to know more about what they want to do when they're older, if they want to get married and have children and what they think about issues like school welfare that we've been preparing some work on.

We watched a film about one of the students, Ayat, and it showed how she and her family don't have much space and they have to share everything. She doesn't even know the people that live next door to her but there is only a curtain dividing them. It is a real contrast to us having our own bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms etc.

They have to share one big building with 20 or more other families so we would like to know more about what they have to do to survive in a war-surrounded area and what it feels like to be in such a crowded environment.

News values - why emotions matter

Learning more about the lives of young people in Damascus has made us realise more about what we have - we have so much and we wish them to have the same because we're all the same age and they are growing up just like us.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Grey Coats team believe that most reporting of the Syria conflict is devoid of emotion

Speaking to these students made us think differently about Syria too. After the Skype chat Kitty watched a report on TV about the conflict but it only focused on the negative side of Syria. She really noticed that not much emotion is shown, it's just the facts. But for us the emotions of people living in the country are as important as what's happening because they are the ones that have to live through it.

It is quite sad that the media really only report one side of Syria and is not interacting with the children and how they and their families feel.

We found that people in Syria still have hope that things are going to get better, so we want to focus on the positive side of life too. We think this would help people in Syria be heard and make them feel supported.

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