AMMAN — A “massive” influx of students into government-run schools this year is raising doubts among educators about the government’s assertions that it has taken all necessary measures to ensure a smooth start to the academic year.
With September just around the corner, education experts are questioning the government’s ability to “contain” what they described as a possible educational “crisis”, caused mainly by its decision to allow Syrian students to enrol in public schools.
The “real” problem, according to Jordan Teachers Association (JTA) Deputy President Hussam Masheh, is that thousands of Jordanian students are also transferring this year from private to public schools.
The Private Education Department announced last week that the number of students applying to transfer will likely reach 15,000 by the enrolment deadline for public schools on August 30.
The education ministry estimates the number of Syrians joining Jordanian public schools this year is between 6,000 and 7,000, which Masheh said requires the ministry to take action to accommodate the rising number of students.
“Jordan is obligated to provide education to Syrian children; perhaps this assistance tops all other humanitarian aid that should be provided to Syrians residing in Jordan,” he told The Jordan Times.
Minister of Education Fayez Saudi on Tuesday acknowledged that enrolling Syrian students in public schools will “affect the ministry’s capabilities”, but stressed that the ministry would do everything in its power to ensure that this influx does not disrupt education in the Kingdom, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.
Syrian students are registering in schools across Jordan, especially in Amman, Mafraq, Irbid and Zarqa, according to the ministry.
Earlier this year, UNICEF allocated JD1.6 million to help the government accommodate Syrian students in public schools.
The grant is supposed to cover the cost of the students’ school fees, books, make-up lessons and social activities, in addition to paying for the rental of school buildings to accommodate the increased number of students.
The education ministry has added new classes to many schools across the country, rented around 50 new buildings and appointed 511 new teachers.
It has also established mobile classrooms in Zaatari near Mafraq, home to Jordan’s first Syrian refugee camp, to accommodate the growing number of students in the area.
In addition, some schools will work on a two-shift system.
Whether these measures will be sufficient to prevent overcrowding in schools is, however, far from certain.
A public school director in Amman, who asked not to be named, said each classroom in his school had the capacity to accommodate between 35 and 40 students, but that he was now obligated to accept more than 55 students in each class.
“We received orders not to turn down any students who wish to study at any public school in Jordan,” he told The Jordan Times, warning that this will “erode” the quality of education and cause a shortage of teachers and school resources.
Masheh said the JTA had appealed to the ministry to appoint new teachers, stressing that the student-teacher ratio is already very high, even without this year’s influx of new students.
Sociologist Hussein Khuzai told The Jordan Times previously that the ideal class size is 20 students and that having more than 30 pupils in a classroom is considered “unhealthy”.
“Smaller class sizes enable teachers to devote more time to each student, and thus improve their achievements,” he noted.
Hani Taweel, an educational administration professor at the University of Jordan, underlined that even the double-shift system is “unfair” for students as it “deprives” them of extracurricular or guided activities that are ideally provided by a full day at school.