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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September 14, 2015

The Daily Star - RACE to educate 200,000 refugees, September 14, 2015

Will Worley

As Lebanon prepares to begin a new school year, conditions have perhaps never been more difficult in this century for the country’s education system. The refugee crisis created by the Syrian conflict has added well over a million people to the population of Lebanon. Of these, it is thought that 510,000 are of school age. Education can provide support, a purpose and ultimately hope to those who are most vulnerable in conflicts. It also equips students with the skills necessary to rebuild their country once conflict is over. However, this month UNICEF announced that 13 million students are out of school across war torn parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

With Lebanon a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its Education Ministry is obliged to provide an education for all children. However, many children in Lebanon, a large number of them Syrian refugees, remain out of school.

The ministry is leading efforts to provide education to as many students as possible, in its Reaching All Children with Education program. Now entering its third year, RACE aims to “to ensure that vulnerable school-aged children [3-18 years], affected by the Syria crisis, are able to access quality formal and nonformal learning opportunities in safe and protective environments,” according to the June 2014 ministry report overviewing the project.

“The aim is to educate as many children as possible, because we are worried about having them outside of the school system,” says Sonia Khoury, who helps oversee RACE at the ministry.

United Nations agencies are collaborating with the ministry on RACE, which has just announced its aim to educate 200,000 Syrian refugee children this academic year. This will partly be done through nonformal education, which aims at properly preparing children to enter the formal Lebanese system.

In the formal system, much of the learning will be done in shifts, with classes both in the morning and afternoon at public schools. According to Khoury, the number of schools implementing the shift system, and therefore accepting more refugee students, has increased from 144 last year to 259 this year.

The shift system has received criticism in the past, with reports that morning classes were not filled to maximum capacity and a perception among some refugee parents that classes in the afternoon (made up of Syrian students) were not of as good quality as those in the morning. There were also fears that the shift system, among other factors, encouraged an informal culture of segregation.

However, Khoury states that the morning shift will now be filled to capacity, allowing non-Lebanese to enroll once all Lebanese students have. Only non-Lebanese students will go to the afternoon shift. Apart from in terms of capacity, there will not be restrictions to this access (for instance, based on how long a refugee has been in Lebanon). Khoury says: “As long as there is space in the class, enrollment is unconditional.”

However, according to Khoury, the curriculum and quality of teaching will be the same in both shifts. All students will have their certificates approved by the Education Ministry.

“Formal education is free for everyone in Lebanon this year in public schools, whether they are Lebanese or non-Lebanese,” says Lisa Abou Khaled, assistant communications officer at UNHCR. “The Education Ministry receives technical and financial support from donors and U.N. agencies, which allows the covering of all fees for Syrians and other nationalities.” The international education campaign A World At School said Thursday that $30 million is needed for this school year in Lebanon. This has led to renewed requests to donors.

Abou Khaled points to the growing figures of refugee children in school. In 2013-14, there were 90,000 in public schools, 106,000 in 2014. In 2015 some 200,000 are expected. “There is still a gap but we’re happy with the reduction of the gap. We’re still hoping more children will enroll in the following year.”

Mark Chapple is program director of education for international NGO Save The Children. “RACE is a fantastic initiative,” he says.

“We’ve been providing direct support for the government in formal and nonformal education.”

Save The Children have also been making crucial efforts to support refugee children in getting into school and staying there.

However, Chapple also highlights the complexities of providing a good education to children who have escaped war. He says: “Not all of refugee children’s needs are being met. There are many children still not being reached by formal education because of issues with access, capacity and funding.”

Chapple also highlights the difficulties many children face in transitioning to the Lebanese education system, particularly those traumatized by experiences in Syria. In particular, most Syrian children speak only Arabic, which makes learning technical subjects, taught in French and English, extremely difficult.

Reports have emerged that some Syrian children in Lebanese public schools have also faced high levels of discrimination and bullying from both teachers and fellow students. In addition to safety concerns inside the classroom, getting to and from school safely is another consideration. These factors have contributed to many refugee students dropping out of school.

However, Khoury believes that the problem of violence in schools is now less of a concern than it was. She does, however, acknowledge that the issue of transport is a “challenge,” and recognizes that many parents are, especially for daughters, wary of having their children walk home in the evenings.

Abou Khaled says that dealing with the issue of dropouts is a top priority for this year. “We’re doing our best to expand outreach activities for this year. We’re working with teams in the field and parent committees to reinforce the message of keeping kids in school.”

According to Abou Khaled, other priority areas for UNHCR this year are identifying out of school children and promoting the inclusivity of those with disabilities into the formal education system.

There have also been some concerns over the coordination of the Education Ministry with NGOs operating in Lebanon, which Khoury herself admits the government relies on. Despite praising the “laudable effort” of the government led RACE program, Chapple says that Save The Children would welcome increased government coordination with NGOs. “We recognize that the government is the main provider but there are many NGOs operating in Lebanon. As major NGO, Save The Children sees a need for consistency and standardization.”

The ministry plans to continue to scale up the RACE project in the coming years if the funding is available.

Typically, the money, or lack of it, presents the most significant challenge. The situation puts further pressure on a public system which is widely regarded as having problems which predate the current refugee crisis (a large majority of Lebanese children are educated privately). Despite the challenges in providing education, it remains the only option to offer a hopeful and productive future to the young victims of war.

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