22 Jan 2010

Syrian School: real life in the Middle East

Boys from Al Muleiha primary school

Boys from Al Muleiha primary school

TX: Wednesday 10 February, 9pm, BBC FOUR 5 x 60minutes

A unique portrait of life in the heart of the Middle East is shown in a new documentary coming to BBC FOUR. Syrian School, produced in partnership with The Open University, explores the lives of ordinary people in close up – from the Palestinian refugee rappers clashing with their conservative head teacher, to girls finding self-expression through love poetry.

For forty years Syria has been dominated by a single party and there is limited political freedom. Now with unprecedented access and filmed over the course of a year, this five part series shows what it is like to grow up in the heart of the Arab world. Using the prism of four schools in Damascus, the series takes us beyond politics and media clichés to the stories of ordinary people. Syrian School follows on from the success of previous series Chinese School, Indian School and African School.

Through the eyes of teachers, pupils and families, Syrian School gives a rare opportunity to see the human face of this region, exploring the hopes and aspirations of this primarily Muslim country and challenging our own assumptions about what life is like there.

Expert Freda Wolfenden is the lead academic for The Open University on the series and said: “As with the other school series that the OU and BBC have produced, Syrian School gives us the chance to examine an overseas education system and the people within it. The series throws into relief the different kinds of schooling within this region – from traditional to progressive – and gives us the chance to compare it with our own education system here in the UK. It’s a fascinating and important insight into education in this part of the world.”

The influx of refugees into Syria, most recently those from Iraq, is giving the educational system an additional challenge, as it has had to adapt to meet their needs and accommodate extra pupils in schools across the busy city of Damascus. In episode one we meet Yusuf, a Christian refugee from Iraq, who is settling in to Jaramana Boys’ School. After living through bombings in Baghdad, Yusuf still has a fear of loud bangs.

Richard Klein, Controller of BBC Four said: “Syria is one of those places that really is mysterious - because it is so different, so pivotal in its role in the Middle East and yet so difficult to get into and get a proper look around. The film team spent the best part of year with remarkable access in three schools and in doing so portrayed the lives and worlds of children in a way that is both captivating and eye-opening. It really is a series from another world.”

Notes to Editors

Syrian School will be shown on BBC World in August 2010.

Supporting material for the series can be found online at www.open2.net and via the BBC website www.bbc.co.uk/syrianschool

BBC World Class
For Syrian School, BBC World Class is working with the British Council to twin UK schools with schools in the Arab world. Join BBC World Class and we will help you twin. For more information go to www.bbc.co.uk/worldclass

TX details: Wednesday 10 February, XPM, BBC Four – 5 x 60mins
Syrian School is a co-production between The Open University and the BBC, made by Lion Television.
The Executive Producer for Lion Television is Bill Locke; Producers: Max Baring and Sarah HamiltonBBC Commissioning Executive for The Open University is Emma De’Ath.
The Broadcast and Learning Executive for The Open University is Anne Stevens.
The Open University academics for the series are Freda Wolfenden, Helen Yanacopulos and Giles Mohan.

The OU and the BBC have been in partnership for forty years, providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late night programming for delivering courses to peak-time programmes with a broad appeal, to encourage wider participation in learning.

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