Education and Alienation: The Case of Displaced Syrians and Refugees

By Basileus Zeno
Submitted to Session S6699 (Global Academy Workshop - Repercussions of Displacement in the Academy and Beyond, 2021 Annual Meeting
Before the Syrian uprising (2011) and the subsequent war, Syria’s literacy rates were amongst the highest in the MENA region. However, after a decade-long humanitarian crisis and devastating war, all aspects of life, including education, have been fundamentally transformed. Building on ethnographic fieldwork (2014-2019) that includes 76 interviews with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in the United States and six remote interviews with displaced families inside Syria, this contribution examines the impact of the Syrian conflict on education by showing the challenges that contribute to the alienation of displaced Syrian children and youth inside Syria as well as in the United States. Inside Syria, I discuss the institutionalization of violence and the construction of internal “othering” through the implementation of different and competing educational curriculums that invest in identity politics. Outside Syria, I examine how educational gaps affected asylum seekers and refugees in the United States. I show the ways in which the lack of systematic and sustainable support to address linguistic, cultural, and financial challenges that displaced Syrians face sustained this gap. I conclude by proposing policy recommendations that address these challenges which, I argue are key determinants to any future efforts of peacebuilding and reconciliation in Syria.