All young talent deserves the opportunity to shine
Tala Jarjour/Arab News
Selecting a career path is one of the most daunting decisions for many people, anywhere and of any age. It is no longer unusual for an individual to change directions in one’s career, and making multiple shifts is increasingly becoming the norm. The rapid changes in economic behavior, in borders, in population movement, rising environmental challenges and the quick dissemination of information are but a few of the factors that are dictating choices in a fast-moving world. These changes are also inspiring new choices, and providing opportunities for creativity and diverse initiatives outside established norms. But, even with all the fluidity a globally connected social and economic environment encourages, education remains a key component of how an individual thinks and what they end up doing, especially when they have to start making life-affecting decisions at the tender age of 16, 17 or 18.
Scientists tell us that the human brain continues to grow beyond childhood, especially brain areas that are key to executive functions and decision-making. This is one of the reasons teenagers are sometimes seen by adults as strange creatures, capable of making irrational decisions that can drive their parents to the edge of their patience. But that is also why those years are crucial in laying some bases for future behavior, as the young personality acquires experiences that allow it to make difficult decisions during the teenage years as well as in future stages of life. Facing hardship of any kind during this critical age can leave a particular mark on one’s personality, and the effects can have life-changing consequences for the person involved and for those with whom they interact later on in life.
In a previous column, I encouraged the readers of this page to spare a thought for Syrian youths as summer begins this year. With graduation pageantry taking place all around the world, it is difficult not to encounter an ecstatic graduate donning their gown in the streets of major cities and college towns, or a proud parent decorated with their best attire and proudest smile. A small number of Syrian youths are participating in these celebrations. While some of them have made it into college and are gradually receiving degrees and honors while beating many odds, for the majority of Syrian youths and children, the prospect of even making it to college remains a distant dream, if one at all.
A number of projects have looked into the reality of higher education for Syrians who have had to leave their homes since 2011. Studies published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in 2013 and 2014 outlined some of the many challenges and issues Syrian students (or should-be students) were facing in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. The IIE published three reports, which were produced in collaboration with the University of California, Davis and funding bodies. Bleak as the picture these reports portrayed some five to six years ago were, the state of affairs has undoubtedly worsened, if only by the sheer increase in the number of people who have had to flee their homes in Syria. A major hurdle many Syrian youths face today is the cost of living, let alone university fees and other expenses associated with going to college. These costs apply to Syrians as they do to all international students, be it in these countries or elsewhere.
The IIE Scholar Rescue Fund has since dedicated special efforts to supporting Syrian scholars, and has established a number of collaborations that have so far sent 106 of them to 80 institutions in 14 countries. Universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and Yale, among many others, have either created special scholarships for outstanding Syrian students or have partnered with grant makers, charitable institutions or philanthropic individuals to offer places for displaced individuals.