Lebanon Public Schools Try to Accommodate Syrians

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Many of Lebanon’s public schools see a majority of their student bodies made up of displaced Syrians.

Official sources in the Ministry of Education expect Lebanese students in public schools to be affected in the future by the inclusion of displaced Syrian students without plans ensuring their integration. The sources indicated that the difference between the Syrian and Lebanese educational curriculum can be overwhelming to Syrian students due to the need to master a foreign language. Lebanese students are likewise prevented from from completing their studies as a result of the high number of students in classes, and the ensuing slowdown necessary to get Syrian and Lebanese students on the same page.

The sources provides a series of examples in this respect, pointing out that there is a large number of public schools where Syrian students outnumber their Lebanese counterparts, in such a way that Syrian students are the prevailing majority. This has forced teachers to make simplified explanations of the lessons to ensure their understanding by all students. Moreover, such a slowdown is necessary since it would not be logical for teachers to give lessons as usual according to the needs of Lebanese students while there are 25 Syrian students and only five Lebanese students in the classroom.

Statistics indicate a need for a quick solution to integrating Syrian students, by providing intensive courses, especially in foreign languages, before taking any other step. “This affects the future of Lebanese students and therefore the quality of the education they receive will be weakened,” indicated the sources, pointing out that the results in many schools in the southern suburbs of the capital and even in the north and the Bekaa, are evidence of this.

The sources gave an example of this situation in the public schools of Beirut, saying, “Pressure is exerted on a number of schools. In Al-Irshad wal Tawjih [counseling and guidance] mixed school, there are 207 Syrian students, compared to 120 Lebanese students. In Sheikh Sabah Salem al-Sabah educational complex in the Uruguay (Sin el Fil) area, there are 547 Syrian students, compared to 200 Lebanese students; in Ashrafieh third mixed public school, there are 156 Syrians to 65 Lebanese, and in Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah School-Ras Beirut, there are 418 Syrian students, compared to 185 Lebanese students.

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The sources asserted that these statistics indicate the urgent need for officials to remedy the situation, especially since 5,352 Syrian students compared to 6,865 Lebanese students were enrolled in 47 public schools in the capital, in addition to 494 student of various nationalities, according to the last survey conducted on Sept. 30, 2013. It is worth mentioning that the registration period in public schools continues until Oct. 10, 2013.

Alternative measures

The director of education in Beirut Governorate, Muhammad al-Jamal, confirmed that the Ministry of Education could not have handled the pressure brought on by Syrian students a year ago. “The situation is constantly connected to the Syrian crisis,” he said, recalling that as soon as enrollment started and the preliminary figures were revealed, the ministry immediately contacted donors and reminded them of their responsibilities. The ministry also opened 70 educational centers in the various Lebanese regions to accommodate Syrians students, which offer afternoon classes. For this purpose, three centers were opened in three different geographic regions in the capital. The first is in Ras al-Nabeh, which will accommodate students in the neighboring regions and in Ashrafieh, the second in the Bir Hassan complex where there are numerous public schools and the third in Tarik el-Jdideh covering that area,, al-Mazraa and its surroundings.

The latter explained that the three centers will include an educational board and a contractual management and would be managed at the expense of international donors. “This measure will ease the burden on our schools and will not affect our Lebanese and Syrians students who are studying the Lebanese curriculum,” he said, denying any shortcomings by the educational board in the classroom. “The board is entrusted with teaching only the Lebanese curriculum and it shall be held liable for any shortcomings, even if all students are Syrians,” Jamal added. He acknowledged that there was a decline in the number of enrolled Lebanese students, who are waiting for a solution to the Syrian student problem, pointing out that “this situation prompted some families to move their children to free, or subsidized private schools.”

Jamal stressed that the ministry is working at maximum capacity to secure a seat for every Lebanese student and he asked parents to trust the public school sector, awaiting the end of the Syrian crisis.

The inability to accommodate the number of students

A number of public school principals in Beirut confirmed that it is impossible for them to refuse the registration of any student, regardless of his or her nationality, stressing that priority is given to the Lebanese students. These principals were surprised by the lax Lebanese registration procedures, indicating that 850 Syrian students were enrolled between Sept. 24 and 30, 2013. Moreover, there are 121 students on the waiting list, not to mention the parallel increase in the number of Lebanese students by about 400 students.

Principals of schools in overcrowded residential areas have to manage with the large influx of students, especially in Ras el Nabeh, Bir Hassan Vocational and Technical Education Complex, Tarik al-Jdideh, Shakib Arslan and others. On the other hand, schools such as Ras al-Nabeh primary and secondary public schools for girls and Ashrafieh mixed public school and others can accommodate additional numbers.

School principals requested the acceleration of the ministry's plan for holding afternoon classes for Syrian students. They said the number of Syrian students has almost become equal to that of Lebanese students, since there are 6,000 (compared to 5,000 in 2012) Syrian students, compared to 8,500 Lebanese students.

The fate of free books

Sources in the Ministry of Education revealed that the transfer of 6 billion Lebanese lira ($4 million) allocated for the purchase of textbooks that are free for students for the academic year 2012-2013, which began Thursday, Oct. 3, provided the school funds are the designated beneficiary. It is worth mentioning in this respect that these schools started receiving their financial entitlements on Oct. 7, 2013.

The sources pointed out that the Minister of Education and Higher Education Hassan Diab sent about three weeks ago a letter to the Ministry of Finance requesting the disbursement of 8 billion Lebanese lira ($5.3 million) for textbooks purchases for the current year. These sources noted that in the event the Ministry of Education receives these funds soon, it must disburse and distribute them to schools by the end of this year or risk losing the allocation. It is worth mentioning that the mechanism of distribution of free textbooks is the same as last year. In other words, school principals shall promptly distribute vouchers to students, fill in the relevant tables and submit them to the Ministry of Education which will resettle their amounts from the allocated $5.3 million at a later stage.

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Found in: students, syrian repercussions in lebanon, syrian refugees in lebanon, education systems, education
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