Syria has made a significant investment in education, as has been demonstrated by its excellent literacy rates - about four-fifths of the Syrian population is literate. When the Ba'ath took control of Syria in the Sixties, education became a top priority, used as a means of ensuring development and at the same time exercising a strong influence over the masses.
Syrians value the need for a good education and intellectual development. Public demand for education has remained strong, reflecting the importance of education as a means of social progress. Aware of the added value of education to the world of work, the government continues to innovate and update the education system in order to produce a qualified and competent workforce to meet the economic and social needs of Syrians. In the public and private sectors there is a strong belief that sustained employee development and training is seen as an investment for future generations.
The Syrian government finances education at all levels, notably boosting the proportion of its total expenditure from 12.6 percent in 2000 to 15.7 percent in 2005. During this time, the ratio of education expenditure to GDP increased from 2.7 percent to 4.3 percent.
Syria’s educational aspirations
Education in Syria is controlled and run by the state; the Ministry of Education outlines the curriculum, sets the teaching aims and outcomes and provides the teaching material and support. In 1981, the government passed a law making education free and compulsory for all Syrian children from grades 1 to 6.
The education system in Syria
Lessons are taught in Arabic, with English and French taught as the first and second foreign languages. According to the 2007 census, 98 percent of schools in Syria are state-run against 1.8 percent which are private. In 2007, there were 8 million students in the education system of Syria (4 million in primary education, 1.4 million in secondary and 2.3 million in higher). Given the current growth rate in the school age population, it is estimated that by 2015, the education system in Syria will need to provide for an additional one million pupils in primary and secondary education.
The school system in Syria is divided into primary and secondary education levels; schooling consists of 6 years of primary education followed by a 3-year general or vocational training period and a 3-year academic or vocational programme. The second 3-year period of academic training is required for university admission. Schools are divided into three levels:
- 1st to 6th grade: Primary Education Level
- 7th to 9th grade: Lower Secondary Education Level
- 10th to 12th grade: Upper Secondary Education, equivalent to the sixth form in the UK
Final exams of the 9th grade are set nationally and are taken at the same time. The result of these exams determines if the student moves to the secondary schools or to the vocational secondary schools. Vocational secondary schools include those for male students studying industry and agriculture, arts and crafts school for female students, and business and computer science schools for both.
At the beginning of the 11th grade, those who go to secondary school have to choose whether to study either Arts or Sciences. The final exams of the 12th grade (the baccalaureate) are also set nationally and are all taken at the same time. The result of these exams entitles the student access to university according to his/her category of baccalaureate.
Discipline in school follows a universal strategy in Syria. Students are given a series of warnings, then the parents are brought in for a chat, and finally the student is suspended for a few days if things still don't improve.
Universities in Syria are generally overcrowded. There are in fact too many students for too few universities and facilities. In terms of education, most universities in Syria follow the French model of higher education. The university stages and the academic degrees are:
- Undergraduate: the ‘Licence’ awarded after 4 years to 6 years depending on the subject of study.
- Postgraduate: the DEA or DESS - 1-2 year postgraduate degree equivalent to the Master's degree in the British - American systems.
- Postgraduate: the doctorate - 3-5 years following on from the DEA or an equivalent degree.
The rapid population growth is one of huge challenges facing the country. For instance, the fight to curb the growing unemployment rate, especially amongst young people suggests that education remains one of the government’s top priorities in Syria. Over the last decade, Syria has introduced bold reforms to develop a higher quality of education and improve the current infrastructure. Enhancing the standard of living for Syrians through better economic and social conditions is currently one of the government’s main objectives.
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