03/14/2016 11:54 EDT | Updated 03/15/2017 05:12 EDT

Try Comparing Your Canadian Classroom With This Syrian One

Before Ms. Bethanis moved in, my son's Toronto classroom was little more than an empty shell. Our new teacher was hired late last August, just days before her students would burst through the door of Room 103.

With almost no time to prepare, Ms. Bethanis spent her last week of summer creating lesson plans and strategies. She must have felt tempted to buy armloads of posters to cover the bare walls, but Ms. Bethanis resisted. She had an even more amazing plan. The new Grade 5 and 6 students would build the new classroom with her.

It was pretty incredible to see the students themselves weave magic in their classroom. They got busy making bright self-portraits for the top of each wall. Underneath, Ms. Bethanis taped up felt-tip summaries of what they were all learning together.


Photo courtesy of Ms. Bethanis

My favourite poster is packed with adjectives describing the kind of classroom the students wanted to have, words like supportive, respectful, listening, cooperating. In bright orange is the phrase sacred to every girl or boy: having...FUN!


Photo courtesy of Ms. Bethanis

Contrast this with a Syrian classroom

This week, World Vision released a video showing what it might be like to have your classroom torn apart by war. In about two minutes, Life As a Classroom shows the destruction of once-friendly schoolroom over Syria's five-year conflict.

As the video opens we see the teacher, so similar to our amazing Ms. Bethanis, energetically teaching from the front. The walls are covered with colourful posters and a map of the world. All is peaceful. All is as it should be.


From World Vision's "Life As a Classroom" video

Suddenly, we hear the chanting of political protests in the street outside. Teacher and students move to the windows to look out. That's when things begin to change. In subsequent scenes, we see the students learning their lessons in coats and woolly hats. There's no heat in the school.

Things unravel further. Fewer students arrive to take their seats. Bomb blasts in the street outside send the curtain flying. Then begins the gunfire, keeping even more students away from class. The two or three who still attend learn their lessons in the dark.


From World Vision's "Life As a Classroom" video

Men in camouflage enter the classroom, ushering out the students. The room becomes an impromptu field hospital. The chalkboard is used to keep a tally of the people being treated. The doctor, covered with blood, leans against the wall, his face in his hands.

A family moves in to make the classroom a temporary home. Desks are broken up for fuel, and a fire is lit. The group quickly leaves when more bombs shake the building, knocking the chalkboard to the ground.


From World Vision's "Life As a Classroom" video

How the story ends

I won't tell you how the story ends -- you'll have to see for yourself. But I will say that, as a mother of school children here in Canada, I found it almost too painful to watch. I kept thinking about the words in Room 103's poster about life in their own classroom. Supportive. Respectful. Listening. Co-operating. Having fun.

In contrast, here's a sense of what's happened to education for Syrian children, according to a new report by World Vision and Frontier Economics:

  • One in every four schools has been damaged, destroyed, or used to shelter displaced people
  • About 5.7 million children inside Syria are in need of education assistance
  • There were more than 400,000 more children out of school in 2015 than in 2014
  • By the end of 2015, the equivalent of 24.5 million years of schooling were lost to the conflict

Just think about that last statistic for a moment. Consider how much the child in your life has learned and developed -- just this year alone! Think about how their reading has improved, or how they're advancing in math. Then multiply that growth, that knowledge, that intellectual development by 24.5 million. It's impossible to get your head around, isn't it?

Unlike the children in Room 103, millions of children in Syria today aren't having any fun. This conflict has no respect for children. Cooperation is a word they used to know, when their main challenge was resolving disputes in the playground. And listening to children is something that's been all-but-buried in the rubble of bombed schools.

Now you'll understand why World Vision made this video. Please share it with as many people as you can.

Watch "Life As a Classroom" on YouTube

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