Schools in the northern Syria region, which is administered by the Arab-Kurdish autonomous administration, are seeing a high student turnout this year following the reopening of dozens of new schools.
Enhanced security, the removal of mines and increased efforts to revive the education process by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have led to a swelling in the number of students who have resumed their education this year.
Mayada al-Sheikh, co-president of the al-Raqa Civil Council’s education committee, told Diyaruna the committee is "very keen on ensuring the success of the school year and overcoming all obstacles".
"The main goal at this time is to meet the students’ needs and provide them with an adequate learning environment," she said.
This year, the number of primary and middle school students surpassed the 80,000 mark, she said, almost double the number of students last year.
This is due to an increased sense of security among residents, she said, as well as the rehabilitation of an additional number of schools that were destroyed or damaged when the region was under the control of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), which had turned some into prisons and headquarters.
"The number of schools has reached 40 in the city centre and 280 in the rest of al-Raqa and its rural areas," al-Sheikh said.
Of the schools that were reopened in al-Raqa is al-Wehda al-Arabiya, Musab bin Umeir, Jawad Anzour, al-Salhabiya al-Gharbiya, al-Qahtaniya, al-Kalta al-Sharqiya and Tariq bin Ziyad, she said.
"The repair work on all of those schools has been completed and they have been furnished with desks and the required administrative and teaching supplies," said al-Sheikh.
Education an 'urgent priority'
Not too far from al-Raqa city, the town of al-Tabqa and its rural areas are also seeing an improved education system, said Ghanim al-Faraj, an administrator with the al-Tabqa Civil Council education committee.
Education was made an "urgent priority because it relates to, on the one hand, erasing all traces of ISIS, and on the other, preparing the new generation to face the future", he told Diyaruna.
Attention was initially focused on young, pre-school aged children, he said, noting that a kindergarten class was opened in co-operation with the Woman and Child committee.
"Co-operation is ongoing between all institutions of the autonomous administration to meet all the needs for the new school year and education process," al-Faraj said.
He added that all grade levels -- elementary, middle and secondary -- are now available in the al-Tabqa region.
Confidence in autonomous administration
The confidence that residents have in the autonomous administration and its committees in the districts, localities and towns of al-Raqa, and the removal of mines from all areas of the province, have reassured parents to send their children back to school, said Jaber Hassan, a teacher from the town of al-Jarniya.
The education committee in al-Jarniya, north of al-Tabqa, has rehabilitated a large number of schools in co-operation with the education committee of the executive council of al-Tabqa's democratic civil administration, he said.
The main schools in al-Jarniya that are witnessing a large student turnout include al-Mazyouna, Mweileh, al-Jarniya, al-Mustariha, Bir Nayef, Hbeiter, al-Mahmoudli, Khirbet Shafrat and al-Tanjara, said Hassan.
"All the basic repair work has been completed and the schools have been furnished with supplies, desks and heating equipment to protect the students from the bitter winter cold," he added.
Assessment exams also were held for students who have been out of school for some time, in order to determine their proficiency level and assign them to the grade level appropriate for them.
The town of al-Mansoura on the banks of the Euphrates river has been on high alert to ensure the success of the new school year, said town resident Mansour al-Khalaf, a father of two elementary school children.
Residents are fully co-operating with the autonomous administration, especially with its education and reconstruction committees, to ensure the success of the education process, he told Diyaruna.
Teachers underwent training ahead of the start of the school year, and students who needed a boost with certain materials were offered intensive summer classes to help them catch up, he said.