The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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November 6, 2014

The Daily Star - USAID donates over $40M to improve public schools, November 06, 2014

Hachem Osseiran

The U.S. Agency for International Development launched Wednesday a $41.2 million education program for public schools in Lebanon in an attempt to redress the imbalance between private and state education in the country.

Currently only a third of students attend public schools, where the quality of education is often lower than that at private schools, and USAID’s Improved Basic Education Services Program, run in association with the Education Ministry, has been designed to help change that.

“These initiatives are a testament to our joint belief in education, our cooperative and enduring relationship, and the resilience of your commitment to education in the face of political, economic and security challenges,” U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale said during the launching ceremony at Kesrouan’s Daroun Mixed Intermediate Public School. The event was attended by Education Minister Elias Bou Saab.

The program focuses on three main components: improving reading skills, expanding access to education among vulnerable populations, and improving education monitoring and management, said the U.S. Embassy’s press officer Geraldine Gassam.

With regard to reading skills, Bret Saalwaechter, the director for Education, Democracy Rights and Governance at USAID, said the program would include a diagnostic survey to establish each student’s reading proficiency. Students will also be assessed on their ability to recognize phonetics and associate meaning to given texts.

Gathering this information would allow USAID and the Education Ministry to create relevant training modules for teachers, and also tailor interactive reading games and determine the appropriate reading materials for students, he said.

Saalwaechter added that, outside the classroom, the program aims to instill a culture of reading in local communities which would include awareness campaigns targeting parents to get them to encourage their kids to read.

“Lebanese children will excel even more when they are better prepared with basics, like reading, when they see their school as a sanctuary for learning, and when their communities actively participate in the process,” Hale said.

The program comes as Lebanon struggles to deal with the influx of more than a million Syrian refugees, roughly half of whom are under 18. Lebanon’s public school system previously catered to about 300,000 children, and around 350,000 Syrian kids are still out of school despite various educational initiatives and second teaching shifts after normal class hours are over.

“Public schools are undergoing stress, class sizes have doubled and the student body is not remotely what it was two years ago,” Saalwaechter said.

As a result, the program is looking to expand seating so that “no two students have to fight over a desk,” Saalwaechter added. The program will also offer coaching and training to help teachers manage new, larger groups to ensure that classes remains energetic and inclusive, he said.

According to Saalwaechter, the program’s assistance, which is directly linked to the Education Ministry’s “Reaching All Children with Education” development plan, will help the ministry collect data on what is happening and what is being taught in public schools.

The joint initiative will also seek to outline educational principles to inform the ministry’s future decisions in the public school sector.

Saalwaechter said the initiative would benefit roughly 200 public schools in Lebanon. Reading improvement services would be available to all public schools, he added, but assistance with regard to immediate logistical needs would be confined to about 75 schools determined by the ministry.

“I can tell you, you don’t have to live long among the Lebanese to understand the value that the Lebanese people attach to [getting] the very best education,” the U.S. ambassador concluded.

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