Syria's Got Talent Syrian School


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Syria's Got Talent

Series following a year in the life of four schools in Damascus. It's time for the nationwide search to find Syria's brightest and best primary school students.


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Damascus, Syria.

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The oldest capital city on Earth.

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In the heart of the Arab world.

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Following a year in the lives of four schools in Damascus,

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we look at Syria's next generation.

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What is life really like

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in this high-pressure crossroads of the Middle East?

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HE SPEAKS ARABIC

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There are signs that Syria is opening up,

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but it remains dominated by a single party,

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and Syrians have limited political freedom.

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In this programme, it's time for the country's nationwide search

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to find Syria's brightest and best primary school students.

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Thousands of pupils will battle it out

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over three hard-fought rounds of competition

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to become National Pioneers.

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At Mleiha Primary School for Boys,

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Imad hopes he's in with a chance.

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And his head teacher Soha expects only the very best.

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At Jaramana Middle School, older boy Ward has his own challenge.

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He's been picked to represent his country

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in one of the toughest international chess tournaments in the world.

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It's first break at Benin Jaramana Middle School.

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SHOUTING AND TALKING

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500 boys, aged between 11 and 15, get a chance to let off steam in the school yard

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before returning to class.

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BELL RINGS

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HE SPEAKS ARABIC

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THEY SPEAK ARABIC

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13-year-old Ward Tarboush is in his second year at Benin Jaramana.

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THEY SPEAK ARABIC

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Mr Darak teaches maths.

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Ward is one of the sharpest in the class.

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BELL RINGS

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-SHOUTING

-The school day at Benin Jaramana

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runs from 7.45 am to 1.45 pm, Sunday to Thursday.

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It's a ten-minute walk to get home.

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Every day, Ward's mum, Andara, cooks lunch for the whole family.

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Ward's family lives in a small, one-bed flat.

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His dad, Mofid, works as a civil engineer for the government.

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His salary supports the whole family,

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and they are saving up to move into a bigger apartment.

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In the afternoons, Ward plays chess on the family's computer.

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But chess is more than just a computer game for Ward.

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Ward is four-times Arab Junior Chess Champion

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and a Federation Master.

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On weekends and after school, his coach, Moaz,

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runs a chess club for promising young players.

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Ward started playing chess when he was five,

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but he's long since outgrown the challenge of playing other children.

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Today, it's Ward's birthday.

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His family is gathered,

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and to complete the celebration, they've invited chess coach Moaz.

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He may have only just turned 14,

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but Ward has recently been selected to play

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as part of the Damascus men's team.

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And later this year, he will travel to Lebanon to play against adults

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in the international Asian Cities chess tournament.

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# Happy birthday to you

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# Happy birthday to you

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# Happy birthday to Ward

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# Happy birthday to you. #

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Once a year in Syria,

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an organisation linked to the ruling Ba'ath Party,

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called the Ba'ath Pioneers,

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runs a competition to find the nation's most talented youngsters.

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All 21,000 primary schools enter their brightest children

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to compete for the honour of becoming a National Pioneer

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and the chance to attend a special Pioneer summer camp.

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At Mleiha Boys' Primary School on the rural outskirts of Damascus,

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head teacher Soha Inglesi is proud of her school's previous successes.

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All three million primary school children in Syria

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are automatically members of the Ba'ath Pioneers

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and wear the symbol of the organisation on their uniforms.

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Like all schools across Syria, twice a week,

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Mleiha has a flag-raising ceremony under the ever-present gaze

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of Syrian President and Ba'ath Party leader, Dr Bashar al-Assad.

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ROUSING MUSIC PLAYS

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The Pioneers are part of the organisational structure of the Ba'ath Party.

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One of their objectives is to encourage national, party and presidential allegiance

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in primary schools.

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Every child in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades

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gets the opportunity to take part in the annual Pioneers nationwide competition.

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MUSIC STOPS

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Students can compete in over 50 disciplines -

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from maths and science to music and agriculture.

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But head teacher Soha has a passion for the arts.

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Every spring term, she puts in extra hours after school

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to train her star students.

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Mleiha has produced a number of National Arts Pioneers.

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The challenge is to repeat those triumphs this year.

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Soha has high hopes for one of her fourth grade students,

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nine-year-old Imad.

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Imad is one of 14 pupils

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being entered in this year's competition.

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Along with his older fifth grade counterpart, Wassim,

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he's competing in the rather unusual field of timed cardboard model-making.

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Teacher Waleed Othman is helping the boys with the practice session.

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No-one wants to be knocked out in the first round of the competition

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at the end of this week.

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The boys have been practising for weeks after school,

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but Imad has a problem with his speed...

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or lack of it.

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This year,

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in the arts,

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the school has entered students to compete in glass painting, mosaics

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and clay sculpture,

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as well as model-making.

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It's the weekly flag-raising assembly at Benin Jaramana.

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Today is chess champion Ward's last day at school

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before he leaves the country to play some of the best adult chess players in the world.

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Ward is travelling to Beirut without his parents.

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He'll be the only child taking part in the whole tournament.

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It's too expensive for Ward's parents to travel with him

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when he goes abroad,

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but they're his keenest supporters.

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Ward is leaving for Beirut today.

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The tournament in Beirut is a team competition.

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It's down to the team manager to choose which of the five players will take part in each round.

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Beirut is only a three-hour drive from Damascus.

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The team's travelling in a relay of taxis up to the border and beyond.

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Ward won't see his family and friends for two weeks.

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HORN HONKS

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Bye-bye!

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It's 7 am,

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and the day of the opening round of the National Pioneer competition.

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The ultimate goal is to reach the national finals, but for now,

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they've got to win through the local round.

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It's being held in a town an hour's drive from Damascus.

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But with less than 15 minutes to go before competition begins,

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the biggest challenge is finding the right venue.

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HORN HONKS

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Mleiha is the last school to arrive.

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Everyone else in the arts category

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is already in their assigned classrooms,

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and the exams are about to begin.

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All competitors have three hours to interpret a question set by the local Ba'ath Pioneer organisers.

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In the arts, students are competing in everything

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from painting and mosaics to weaving and flower-making.

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In a strategic move,

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Soha has chosen some of the most unusual disciplines for her pupils.

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So it turns out that today,

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Imad and Wassim are the only two competing in 3D modelling.

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Time's up,

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and everyone's work is laid out for judging.

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In each category, only one student from each age group

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will win through to the regional finals.

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With all her experience in the arts, Soha is one of the teachers selected by the Ministry of Education

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to be on the judging panel.

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There are no students from Mleiha in the painting category,

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but picking a winner is turning out to be controversial.

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THEY SPEAK ARABIC

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Soha tries to sort things out by organising a show of hands.

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THEY SPEAK ARABIC

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But not everyone agrees with the outcome.

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A Pioneers official is called in to moderate.

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HE SPEAKS ARABIC

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And after a further 20 minutes of discussion,

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a decision is finally made.

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Imad and Wassim have finished their models in the allotted time

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and they've been waiting for the judges.

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But as they're the only two competitors in their category,

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there's not much to discuss.

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Imad and Wassim know they've made it through,

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but the rest of the students will have to wait until Soha receives their results

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from Ba'ath Pioneer headquarters.

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In Beirut,

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the international Asian Cities chess tournament is well under way.

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At the Meridien Hotel, teams from countries like Iran, Iraq,

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India, Nepal, Lebanon and Jordan are battling it out over ten days.

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The Damascus men's team was seeded eighth in the competition

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and, despite Ward's disappointing performance so far,

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the team is doing well, holding third place.

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Tonight, they're taking on an all-women team from Iran.

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But after Ward's defeats,

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team manager Mohamned has decided to drop him.

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So all he can do is watch his team-mates compete and hope he'll be chosen for the next round.

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PHONE RINGS

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At Mleiha, head teacher Soha has got confirmation

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of which of her students have won through to the regional finals.

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VOICE ON PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM

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In the afternoon assembly, she announces the fourth grade winners.

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DRAMATIC MUSIC

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Soha's been teaching at Mleiha for 27 years

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and only lives a few minutes' walk from the school.

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Every other evening,

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she cooks dinner for her family.

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Today, she's roped in her stepson to help.

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Back in Beirut,

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the Damascus team is getting ready for another day of chess.

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After beating the Iranian women,

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the Syrians are still in third place.

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Once again, Ward hasn't been chosen to play,

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but he's keen to give his team-mate, Talal, some advice.

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Starting time, please start your clocks.

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Arbiters, please start all clocks.

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PHONE RINGS

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Ward's left wondering whether he'll play again

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and have the chance to prove himself against some of the best players in the world.

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At Mleiha Primary School, Imad has brought his latest cardboard creation from home

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for Waleed and head teacher Soha to inspect.

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Imad's mother has collected him from school today.

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Imad's mum is a full-time carer for his older sister, Zainab.

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Imad's teacher, Waleed, lives on the other side of Damascus, right across town from the school.

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After five years of commuting for two hours per day, he's come to a difficult decision.

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Four months ago, Waleed's wife, Fatima, had their first child.

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After a short maternity leave, she has recently returned to work as a pharmacist.

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Teachers' salaries in Syria are pretty modest.

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Many of them take extra work to supplement their income.

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But Mleiha's double-shift system, the extra hours for the Pioneer competitions

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and the long journey to work mean it's been hard for Waleed to get another job.

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So, reluctantly, he's decided to request a transfer to a one-shift school nearer to his home.

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Waleed needs Soha's approval for the transfer. He's asked before, without success.

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Today's his last chance this school year to put in the request.

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In Beirut, they're getting ready for a crucial round in the chess tournament.

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The team manager has decided to risk playing Ward in today's vital round against Jordan.

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Ward and Talal are making final preparations.

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Ward knows the name of his opponent,

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so he's analysing his previous games on the internet.

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Teams are awarded a point for each match they win

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and half a point for a draw.

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The Tehran team are currently in first place and look set to win the tournament,

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but Damascus have battled their way into second place and the chance of 2,000 prize money.

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All the other countries have adult teams,

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and Ward is the only child in the whole tournament.

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Silence, please. Arbiters ready.

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Six o'clock starting time. Please start your clock.

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So far in the tournament, Ward has played two games and lost both of them.

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He's up against 44-year-old Aboudi Marwan from Jordan,

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who's played seven games and only lost one.

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The Syrians need 2.5 points to hold on to second place.

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After half an hour, one of the Syrians reaches a draw -

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half a point to Damascus.

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90 minutes into their game, Ward's opponent offers him a draw.

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Now Ward must decide whether to take the half point for his team

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or play on and try to win.

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He decides to play on.

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Two and a half hours, Syrian player Samir reaches another draw.

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The team now have a total of 1 point.

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1.5 more points needed.

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Talal and Ward must both either win or draw to keep the Syrians in second position.

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After nearly four hours, Ward and his Jordanian opponent are still playing.

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But Ward has the upper hand.

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And, with seconds left on the clock, the Jordanian must make a move, or Ward will win.

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But despite Ward's victory, the team can't hold on to second place,

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as Talal loses his match.

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At the end of the tournament, the Syrian team end up in third place.

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It's still the best they've ever done.

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After a shaky start, it's been a personal triumph for Ward.

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Back home in Syria, the Pioneer competition is getting serious.

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Hundreds of successful students are arriving to compete in the next stage, the regional round,

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where the best students from southern Syria will be chosen for the national finals.

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Across the whole country, a total of 1,500 students will be selected

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to go through to three days of residential finals in June.

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This time, the pupils and teachers from Mleiha have arrived on schedule.

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After weeks of training, there's still time for Imad and Wassim to get some last-minute coaching.

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The academic categories are taking place in nearby schools,

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but here, it's arts, music and agriculture. Like the first round,

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only one student from each grade will be selected.

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Imad and Wassim have both got three hours to make a cardboard model of either a mosque, a church

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or a country house worthy of a place in the national finals.

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But this time they've got competition.

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They're no longer unopposed in the timed cardboard modelling category.

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SHE SINGS

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Wassim has finished his mosque.

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But once again Imad is struggling to work quickly

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and is the last competitor in the room.

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With time running out, Wassim steps in.

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Imad adds a final touch to his country house...

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just in time.

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The students aren't allowed to hear the judges' discussion.

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But Wassim hangs around at the door

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and can't wait to tell Imad what he's heard.

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Next time on Syrian School,

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we follow the Pioneers to the national finals. Will the Mleiha school team get a champion?

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To find out more from the Open University about life in Syria,

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go to...

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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Five-part series following a year in the life of four schools in Damascus, a high pressure crossroads in the Middle East.

It concentrates on some remarkable characters finding their way in a country that has never before opened ordinary life up to the cameras in this way, challenges the usual cliches of Arab life and charts the highs and lows of the school year.

It's time for the country's nationwide search to find Syria's brightest and best primary school students. Thousands of pupils will battle it out in every conceivable discipline, over three hard-fought rounds of competition to become National Pioneers of the Ba'ath Party - Syria's ruling party.

At Al Muleiha Primary School for Boys, head teacher Soha skilfully steers her boys towards the Pioneer final, guiding her most gifted pupils into some of the less competitive disciplines. 11-year-old Imad has his eyes on the prize, for cardboard modelling.

And at Jeramana Middle School, Ward has his own challenge. He's a gifted boy who has been picked to represent his country in one of the toughest international chess tournaments in the world - in Beirut.