As millions of schoolchildren around the world head back to the classroom, Syrian children face the additional challenges that come with living in a war zone: daily violence, fear, and an awful sense of uncertainty. In a move typical of Bashar al-Assad's regime, which has attempted to project a sense of normalcy even as the country descends into civil war, the government ordered schools to reopen on Sunday, Sept. 16. UNICEF has long emphasized the importance of sending children to school even during wartime, but for the thousands of refugees that have taken shelter in more than 800 unoccupied schools over the summer, this will be extraordinarily difficult. With few books or supplies, bombarded school buildings, and basic necessities in question, the 2012 school year in Syria will be unlike any in recent memory. Here's a look at how Syrian schools have weathered the long and bloody conflict.
Marixie Mercado, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, told reporters in Geneva that going to school is a "hugely important way of enabling children who have gone through a nightmare to see that they do have a future." Here, Syrian students are shown attending classes at an improvised school on Sept. 17.
The number of Syrian refugees rose sharply last month, with more than 100,000 fleeing the war-torn country to seek refuge in neighboring countries, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Here, a Syrian refugee girl is pictured sitting in a classroom in the primarily Sunni Lebanese village of Majdal Anjar, near the border with Syria, on Sept. 4.
More than 2,000 Syrian schools have been damaged or destroyed and hundreds more are being used as shelters, according to UNICEF. Above, Syrian students walk home after attending classes at an improvised school in the town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey, on Sept. 17.
The U.N. says more than 1.2 million Syrians, more than half of them children, have been displaced inside the country while an estimated 250,000 refugees have sought shelter in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Above, Syrian children whose families fled violence in the northern province of Aleppo sit at a school where they have taken shelter in the neighborhood of Mashrou-Dumar in Damascus on Sept. 16.
According to the United Nations, 51,000 registered Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon since the start of the conflict. Here, a Syrian boy carries a mat to his room in a school that aid workers converted to a refugee center on March 15. The center is in Wadi Khaled on the Lebanese-Syrian border.
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Faced with insufficient teaching space, some schools may teach in shifts or send children elsewhere. Above, Syrian civilians are shown taking shelter with their families at a school in Damascus on Sept. 16.
The Syrian government has begun moving families taking shelter in schools into public buildings, but many wonder if there will be enough room to house all those who have been displaced. Above, children sleep at a Damascus school on July 23.
Syrian children displaced by the conflict peer through a school gate in the Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh on Sept. 16.
Syrian Education Minister Hazwan al-Wazz told state television last week that the government was ready to start the school year on Sunday, "despite the destruction of around 2,000 schools by terrorists." Above, Syrian children play at a school in Damascus on Sept. 16.
Lebanese authorities are trying to place roughly 32,000 Syrian children in schools, but "capacity is already a concern," according to UNICEF. Above, a Syrian girl writes "Free Syria" on a school blackboard in the Lebanese border village of Majdal Anjar on Sept. 4.
Above, Syrians from the outskirts of Damascus are pictured taking refuge at a school in the Syrian capital on Aug. 24.
U.N. observers are shown here inspecting a bombarded school in the Syrian village of Treimsa in the central province of Hama on Jul. 14. More than 150 people were killed in the blast.
A Syrian child whose family fled the violence in Homs wanders the corridors of a school in Wadi Khaled, on the Lebanese-Syrian border, on Mar. 15.
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Syrian children sit in a makeshift classroom at the Red Crescent camp in Boynuyogun, on the Turkish-Syrian border, on Mar. 25. The Boynuyogun camp is home to some 2,000 Syrian refugees, who are accommodated in 600 tents.
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Syrian children lean on a wall at their school in Idlib, northwestern Syria, on Feb. 22.
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