Baccalaureate Exams: Studying in Times of War

Syrian students attend classes at an improvised school in the town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey, on 17 September 2012. (Photo: AFP -Marco Longari)

By: Omar al-Sheikh

Published Monday, June 3, 2013

Over the past two years, Syrians have been tested daily in their ability to withstand fear and sudden death. Now, thousands of Syrian students are preparing for the 2013 Baccalaureate exams.

Damascus – Only the minds of students are still working in the crisis. They contemplate death and the future simultaneously. They do not summon spirits or cast spells, but the political struggle in the country forces them to calculate the impact of desperation and endurance, even as an illusion.

This June, thousands of Syrian students will be heading to testing centers in order to obtain their high school diplomas. News from other cities say that exams will take place in Damascus, on time. They are ready to open the schools for the Baccalaureate students. However, they could not provide any safety guarantees.

Like any passerby, luck will be the compass that guides them. But they believe in "the future of the country, for them and their children," says Farah, who is waiting to take the exam. She came from Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp to Sahnaya in the Damascus countryside.

And many are like Farah. They do not want to wait until the situation gets "resolved," they believe that life goes on with them, despite the blows faced by their families.

"I lost my father in Homs and got displaced to Damascus a year ago," Rahma, another student, tells Al-Akhbar. "My mother was sick with grief and I thought only continuing my education would make her happy. My brothers agreed to pay for me to go to private institutions to get ready for the Baccalaureate."

She and her colleagues seems to believe that death will not catch them now, at least. "Fear is everywhere, but no problem. Nobody cares about the youth in this critical phase of their education," Rahma adds.

"Most of the students are almost out of hope," she explains. "The rules are strict in terms of attendance. Everyone boasts about being able to attend and the last month of the Baccalaureate classes were always under threat due to the situation."

Students' goals and aspirations were dashed by the number of checkpoints and long waiting hours. Some live hundreds of kilometers from the testing centers. The Syrian education ministry proposed to facilitate the transfer of students to centers closer to their homes.

However, Ammar, who lives in Damascus’ Midan neighborhood is still worried. "My exam center was set in Rukn al-Din, which takes one and a half hours on the road in the morning," he explains. "I have been anxious about this for the past 15 days, since I have not yet received notice of my transfer to a center closer to where I live."

Thousands of Syrian students seem to live the same state of alert. "Students suffer the most," one student says. "Even some family problems might be a distraction, let alone sudden explosions, bombs, clashes, and roadblocks. How can we keep studying and pass?"

Several Syrian students postponed exams until next year. Others have been deprived of the opportunity to even take the exams, either by their families or officials. Some parents reject education in times of war. "Hell is all around. Is it time to be studying?" explains Abdul-Karim.

He points to his son, a Baccalaureate student, who is helping him out in his shoe store in Damascus. The son did not look happy about his father's wishes to cancel his registration for the exams. But he too seems to have surrendered to fear.

Abir was suspended and denied from taking the exams after she was absent from school for 20 consecutive days. When the decision came, there was nothing she could do. "Her parents refused to take the risk of sending her to school,” indicates a supervisor in one of the high schools.

Next to preparations for exams, the haunting images of death interrupt the hopes of students. They have not forgotten the sight of the blood in the School of Architecture in Damascus or the shells that fell on the university cafeteria last March, killing dozens of students.

Ahd, a student who lives in a semi-stable area on Damascus’ Mazzeh highway, says, "I changed my mind about taking the exams only a few days ago. A childhood friend was killed near his house when shells were dropped on the area.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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