A second chance at education for children in Syria

The conflict ravaging the Syrian Arab Republic has left over 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. While the international community has mobilized to provide shelter, food and life-saving aid, UNESCO has been working to support the education system.

The Capacity Development for Education (CapED) Programme, one of UNESCO’s delivery platforms for the 2030 Agenda, focuses on providing educational opportunities and psychosocial support to children and young people affected by the crisis. Targeting children and youth deprived of, or at risk of missing education, CapED is working closely with education personnel at both the school and governorate levels to ensure education is accessible, an instrument for inclusion, and a means to alleviate the trauma of war. The approach is centred on the pivotal role of teachers and seeks to empower them with the necessary skills to deliver gender-responsive accelerated learning programmes and psychosocial support.

“Many of us have economic issues, it is important to have this free support for our children.”

Supported by CapED, the Second Chance Programme, was launched in 2017 and caters to primary level students who failed their final year exams. Over a six-week summer period, the Programme gives them the opportunity to re-sit these exams and progress to the next grade. The Programme also offers psychosocial support activities, taught by trained counsellors, helping children to overcome conflict-related stress and trauma. The sessions include classroom and extra-curricular activities, music, games and sports. Family and community members are welcome to help with these extra-curricular activities, an aspect of the programme that has been significantly reinforced this year. In 2018, 14 governorates took part in the programme.

The Second Chance Programme aims to fill a gap in the education system. It provides the necessary assistance to families who cannot afford additional tuition for their children who have failed exams, supporting them to better understand the curriculum. During discussions with teachers and parents connected to the Programme, one parent said that, “many of us have economic issues, it is important this support to our children is available for free”. Another parent said: “My daughter didn’t like to come to school. She is very shy. Now she comes home and tells me all about her day at school. She is happy.”

The Programme functions through conduct of a central training with staff from the Ministry of Education (MoE) on relevant classroom practices, such as managing crowded classrooms, accelerated learning approaches and multi-grade classrooms. These trainers then pass on their knowledge to other teachers who will participate in the programme, via a cascade teacher-training model. The MoE determines the location of all Second Chance centers, which employ teachers from local schools specializing in different disciplines, an administrative team, a school principal or manager, at least one psychosocial counsellor and other workers. 

“We still need more support for resources, including basic stationary.”


To date, 113,228 learners have benefitted from the Second Chance Programme, of which over 50% were girls. To complement these interventions, UNESCO carried out psychosocial support training for counsellors, and contextualised and produced 40,000 psychosocial support handbooks for distribution to teachers and counsellors. UNESCO also fundraised and rehabilitated 12 schools. While progress is encouraging, challenges remain. One of the Second Chance teachers said: “We still need more support for resources; including basic stationary.”

CapED first started supporting psychosocial support training in Yemen in 2017. When completed, the programme will have trained master trainers from both sides of the conflict in psychosocial support who will then go onto train local governorate focal points. They will in turn train up to 320 primary and secondary school teachers across 24 schools. CapED replicated the psychosocial support initiative in Syria and expanded it to offer it as part of the Second Chance Programme.