Before the conflict began, nearly all of Syria's children went to primary school. Now - four years after the fighting and destruction erupted - the war-weary country has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the world.
Almost three million children are out of school - that means only about 50% are enrolled. In areas worst hit by the conflict, that drops to as low as 6%. At least a quarter of schools have been damaged or destroyed. And education programmes are underfunded by almost 50%.
Those are the depressing statistics contained in a report released by Save The Children on the eve of the third annual global conference on the Syrian conflict, which began in Kuwait today. Almost 80 countries and scores of aid agencies are at the United Nations-led summit.
The UN issued an appeal for $8.4 billion towards the cost of humanitarian aid this year for Syrians living in the country and those who have fled to neighbouring states. The EU Commission and European nations responded with a promise of $1.2 billion, the United States pledged $507 million and Kuwait $500 million.
Girl at a school in Damascus Picture: UNICEF/Rashidi
UN Secretary-General told the conference today: “I have only shame and deep anger and frustration at the international community's impotence to stop the war." He added: “Young girls and boys have been systematically killed, injured and displaced", warning that the millions of children out of school are creating a “lost generation” of Syrians.
Ahead of the conference, aid agencies warned that many Syrian families are marrying off young girls and sending their children to work instead of going to school. Andy Baker, head of Oxfam's Syria crisis response, wrote in a blog: "With inadequate aid funds, more people in need will have to resort to desperate survival strategies such as child labour or early marriage."
Save The Children spokeswoman Caroline Anning said many parents "are too scared to send their children to school". In a report titled The Cost of War released yesterday, Save The Children revealed the cost of replacing the damaged and destroyed schools and equipment could reach $3 billion. It also estimated the long-term impact on Syria's economy of 2.8 million children never returning to the school system at almost $1.5 billion - or 5.4% of its annual gross domestic product.
It called for education to be prioritised as a key component of the Syria crisis response and for full funding of the UN appeals for $224 million for Syrian education and $445 million for the wider region.
Last month Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, called for a fund to provide education for children in conflicts and emergencies. He said the international community had to act urgently to designate "safe schools" and end the militarisation of classrooms.
You can make your voice heard and tell world leaders they must keep to their promise of providing an education for every child in the world. Sign the #UpForSchool Petition now.