Mohammed’s Story: Teaching in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan

This interview was conducted by and is courtesy of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report team. 

We are happy to join UNESCO’s #TeacherTuesday campaign – a ten week journey around the world to share a glimpse of teaching from the voices of teachers themselves. The fourth honored teacher is Mohammed, a teacher in the Zaatari Refugee Camp. This is his story.

Mohammed now lives in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and has been there for 8 months. He has been teaching there for 4 months.

“Our main problems are the shortage of text books, we need boards and markers.  There’s a big deal of coordination with foreigners. There are problems as teachers are dealing with children who have become aggressive because of the situation and the parents are not following up with their children in the school.

There is a lack of textbooks and stationary. Because the schools are run by the Jordanian Ministry of education the teachers must be Jordanian and the Syrian teachers are only assistants. It would be better if all the teachers were Syrian. All the children in the camp are Syrian. If teachers were Syrian too, we’d be of the same culture, and the children accept the Syrian teachers more than the Jordanian ones. But I praise the Jordanian people for their efforts in the school. The Syrian teachers also have lots of experience in teaching. I was teaching for 12 years in Syria and there are many teachers from Syria who have high qualifications and who are well educated, but they are marginalized in the camp. We should be using their expertise in teaching in the camp.

Save the Children had a recruitment for schools and I applied for the job four months ago and they hired me because of my experience and because I have my own university degree and have been teaching for 12 years. I passed the test with full marks.

I teach in school number 3 where there are two schools in one. A primary and secondary combined. Girls in the morning, boys in the afternoon. 800 students in primary from 1st to 4th grade and 400 students in secondary school from 5th – 11th grade.

The school doesn’t look like a school. I want a yard where children can play. We want our school to look like other schools. The principal is Jordanian. I want to do something better in the school, to have my name officially in the school because I am Syrian like the students.

There are 25-40 in each class at my school, school 2. In school 1, there are from 80-120 in classes because of its location in the camp, it’s in one is in the most densely populated area. This is why there are so many students. And it’s in the oldest area of Zaatari, which is a massive, massive place. It takes a couple of hours to walk across the camp.

All children are welcome to register for school and are encouraged through the ‘Back to School’ campaign with Save the Children. We go to their caravans and tents and ask if there are students out of school. We called their parents and encouraged them to register in the school.

The majority of children in the camp are in school though. There are 50,000 children in the camp in total. Half of them are school aged children and 20,000 are currently registered with a school.

Some have missed up to three school years. It’s important they are enrolled into school. We are engaging with the students through the curriculum, but we still need support for that. We have a plan for the whole school year. We have to use the Jordanian curriculum and it can be hard for the new students. There’s not a big difference between the two curriculums, as the last version of the Syrian curriculum was similar to the Jordanian one. The problem is not for us as teachers, the problem is for the children as the learning style is very different. In Syria we start with letters and then give the words, in Jordan they give the words first and then the letters.

We have received training how to teach the Jordanian curriculum. UNICEF also gave us a course on how to be a good teacher. They are training other teachers at the end of March. It’s a good course.

We have many aggressive students because of the situations they faced during the crisis and supporting children in the camp with psychosocial support is important. The Syrian teachers are doing their best to take them out of the situation.

Save the Children have their own caravan with some toys and they do some activities with the children to relieve the tension that they have. They give psychosocial support. We identify children who need support and direct them to the centres. There are over 60 centres in the camp.

Every day the World Food Program distributes high nutrient biscuits to the school for the children and the teachers help hand them out.

Education is very important for children here. We are as Syrian teachers, role models for our students and try all the time to support them and give them attention because sometimes they drop out and we encourage them to stay at school.

We have extra lessons for the children and their parents about ethics and morals in order not to be bad people because of the situation.

Some of the children are still scared of school because they saw their schools being destroyed because of bombing and think the schools are like those in Syria. Some of them don’t come because they think they are not certified in Jordan but this is not true, they can all come. Some refuse to take the Jordanian curriculum and want their own Syrian curriculum. Sometimes some students don’t come to school because it’s very far away from their tent or caravan and are afraid to be targeted by the bad boys in the street.

Because I teach boys some of them are waiting for job to get money because they are very poor here and they want to help their families. They want to continue their education to be in the university in the future but I think they are not accepted in Jordanian universities but I am not sure. The younger ones are wanting to go to school because they love school.

In Syria now, some students are still going to school in the safe places but not all the towns are safe. But other schools like my old school is completely destroyed and nobody can go to school. Through the crisis if it’s safe the children can go but if it’s not safe, if there are shootings and bombings around the school they couldn’t go. Some of the schools were occupied by some of the fighting groups.

I kept going to school to release the tensions and to support the families there but many children didn’t come because of fear. To help the children we try to tell them that we must go on and all the time give them hope for the future. I got no support from anyone to carry on my teaching in that situation. There were no organizations there.

The teachers are there for the students but the majority don’t come as it’s not safe for them to reach the school and the number of students are very little, that’s why you can’t call it an education process.

I was teaching in my school until it was completely destroyed, then I move to another school. Once all schools in the area had been completely destroyed, then I left and came to Zaatari. The majority of teachers left Syria to come to Zaatari, but some have stayed doing humanitarian work for families there. And some keep teaching the students in villages.


My school was attacked at night time so neither the students nor teachers were there. They bombed the whole village that time and they destroyed the school because it was in the area.

Once they stopped paying me my salary in Syria, it was very hard for me. We had to look for bread and everything. We had to start working as volunteers to help families. Because the situation became so bad with the bombing and shooting, we advised everyone to leave and then we left after them.

When my salary ran out, my main work was to collect wheat for the families and to send it to the men to make flour so they could make their own bread. I wanted to try to help and support all the people in my village.

I have six boys.  They were attending school but they left Syria one year before me but I was able to keep constant contact with my family.  My boys were from 2nd to the 10th grade.  They all go to school again now.

Now I get some support. We receive items and can buy items with coupons. And Save the Children pay us 10 Jordanian pounds a day. Syrians aren’t legally allowed to work in Jordan so we work on a voluntary basis so we receive a stipend. It’s not a salary to live on. We don’t pay for rent, and children don’t pay for school and we have food rations. The coupons give us the basic food and to buy other things for the family.

On a typical day here, in the morning I get the bread for my family. I wake up at 5.30am. I spend some time with my family. The school start at 11.30am. It ends at 4 pm. There’s a break when I go home for a rest. Then I go to the street and talk to the families about their needs because we want to take the messages from the street, and to hear about their issues. At night I prepare the coming lessons for students. It takes two hours for me every night. Then I spend some time with my family.

I advise other teachers arriving to teach like me to be honest. They are dealing with special cases who faced many bad experiences in the crisis and saw many bad things and bad pictures with their own eyes. They have to consider the situation when they teach their children at school.

I wish that people keep supporting us here in the camp. The support by organisations like UNICEF and Save the Children in the camp is going very well but we still need more support. I hope we get back to Syria and if it lasts longer than I expect, I hope the standard of the school get better here so that it’s good for our children.”

Read more about the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

Photos by Alaa Malhas

2 thoughts on “Mohammed’s Story: Teaching in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan

  1. This is a great article. I hope you keep posting more like it! It is rare to read the perspectives of educators in Za’atari.


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