Lebanon Faces Educational Turmoil for the New School Year

Garazi Otegi Etxezarreta
10 Octobre 2014

Like many other countries around the world, Lebanon opened the doors of its public schools this Monday, 22nd of September; but unlike elsewhere, thousands of students will find themselves left without a place at school. 

Credit Sam Tarling
Credit Sam Tarling
The Syrian refugee crisis threatens the beginning of the upcoming school year in Lebanon. The equation made it impossible to accommodate the large number of newly arrived Syrian youth last year, and the situation seems to be equally difficult this time around. The wave of Syrian refugees, which peaked at the beginning of last year, and of whom half are under eighteen, translates as the Lebanese Republic finding itself with more Syrian than Lebanese school-aged children, and that, in a country that lacks the resources or ability to take Syrian children into its public schooling system. 

How Lebanon is Handling the Influx of Syrian Refugees in the School System

The arrival of such a number of refugees has shaken Lebanon, and made its education and health system particularly unstable. According to UNHCR, 172,000 refugee and vulnerable local children will not receive any kind of education during this school year in Lebanon. Furthermore, as UNHCR predicts, the quality of the education will diminish due to the over-crowding of schools, as past experience shows. And if this situation was not enough, the refugees that managed to integrate into the Lebanese schooling system will have to face a large linguistic barrier, since 93% of public schools in Lebanon teach classes in French, whilst in Syria they are taught almost exclusively in Arabic. Faced with the prospect of having to accommodate both Lebanese and Syrian students in Lebanese schools, and before the glaring truth that it is a doomed mission, Lebanese law and the current state of affairs meant that no Syrian student would be accepted until the last Lebanese students had enrolled in school. Accordingly, the enrolment of Syrian children only began now that the Lebanese school year has started. 

The Ministry for Education and Higher Education (MEHE), together with UNCHR, local and regional committees and NGOs are currently at work considering how to address the problem. The answer agreed upon by the MEHE and UNCHR during the last school year, in January, was to offer second shifts in the afternoon for refugees or anyone who could not enrol in the first shift. This double shift enabled the enrolment of 27,550 more students in the Lebanese schooling system, providing a less intensive but certified program for the children attending the afternoon shift. Although the authorities continue to look for more ways to avoid leaving out so many school-aged children, there is little hope that all of the 300,000 refugee children now in Lebanon will have the opportunity to enrol in its schools. In the meantime, there have been nationwide strikes by Lebanese teachers that started in June in a campaign for pay justice and in parallel; a demand for higher wages has arisen on several occasions over the last years. Thus, the internal problems facing the Ministry for Education with regard to teachers will most probably slow down the process of finding a solution to schooling Syrian children in the land of the cedar tree. 

The situation has yet to be resolved, but it is very likely that the school year for Syrian refugees, for the ones that managed and are managing to find a place, will not begin before the end of November, in the best case scenario. And as UNHCR’s estimations foresee, more than 170,000 refugees will not be able to enrol in any school leaving them without schooling this upcoming year. 

Among the NGOs that have intervened in the crisis, a significant number of them have targeted the need for schooling for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but the aid remains shamefully scarce considering the scale of the emergency. Besides, educational matters cannot be considered of utmost importance when there are urgent food and health-related needs; survival needs are unquestionably granted the highest priority. 

Linguistic Aid from NGO’s for the Overpopulated Schools

As a tangible example of the fieldwork by NGOs that operate in the education sector, the NGO I am currently working with has been, together with other NGOs, providing intensive French courses for children from different communities and refugee camps in Akkar, North Lebanon, so that they have a basic knowledge of French and are able to follow the Lebanese curriculum in the event they manage to integrate into the Lebanese schooling system. 

However, both smaller and bigger NGOs are constantly in need of funding to be able to implement their educational programs, and the available resources are currently insufficient to face the Syrian refugee crisis. Once again, this school year hundreds of thousands of Syrian children that have taken shelter in neighbouring countries, as is the case in Lebanon, will not be attending school. The fear of a lost generation grows bigger, and the sad fact is that education, after all, is unfortunately not the biggest trouble in the plight of the refugees. 

As part of the international community, I believe we need to do all we can to assist the over 13 million Syrians affected by the war. All kinds of aid, from volunteering to teach, to making a donation, are critical for the future of hundreds of thousands of refugees.