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More reporting on unschooled youth: 'The lost years'

WASHINGTON // On Sunday in the newspaper, we touched on the numbers of Iraqi refugee children in Syria and Jordan now going unschooled, in many cases for several years. Mary Ann Zehr e-mailed us today with a link to a story she and Yasmine Mousa wrote earlier this year that treats the subject in greater detail.

The report, published in Education Week in March, describes the financial, logistical and emotional challenges confronting Iraqi children who wish to attend school in Jordan. They include the costs of tuition, uniforms, books and supplies, and the reluctance of some older Iraqi children, out of school in some cases for years, to go back to grades now filled with much younger Jordanians.

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While the United Nations and the Jordanian Ministry of Education had set a target of educating 50,000 Iraqi children in public and private schools, Zehr and Mousa report, only 24,000 had enrolled.

They told the story of 15-year-old Aseel Thafir, who hoped to become an engineer like his father, but who hadn't attended a regular school since leaving the sixth grade more than four years earlier. And of 16-year-old Aliaa Hussein, who was happy to be taking ninth grade classes, but was worried that it wouldn't last.

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"The day we run out of money, we will go back to Iraq," she said. "This is my worst fear."

Officials on all sides have warned of the ill effects of Iraqis growing up undereducated. "We do have at risk an entire generation of Iraqis who, if they are sort of left adrift and not being integrated or educated, risk being fodder for others, for the extremists," said Ambassador James Foley, the top State Department official on Iraqi refugee issues, told me this fall.

"And so while these people are in the region waiting to go home, their needs have to be met. Their kids have to be schooled, and ultimately they have to be able to go home if all of this is going to work and not haunt us in the future."

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