Lebanon's public schools open doors to Syrian refugees

Amid an increased influx of child refugees from Syria, the Lebanese Ministry of Education, with the assistance of international donors, is arranging afternoon classes to accommodate additional students.

al-monitor Syrian refugee children paint their faces for Halloween in a refugee camp operated under UNICEF in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Nov. 1, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Jamal Saidi.

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unhcr, syrian refugees in lebanon, syrian refugees, syrian crisis, syrian civil war, syria, schools, lebanon, international aid, education

Nov 17, 2013

Some Lebanese public schools have started welcoming Syrian students in afternoon classes after they were granted permission to admit waitlisted students.

Sources in the education sector revealed that the meeting held last week between representatives of international donors (UNHCR and UNICEF), the Ministry of Higher Education and civil society organizations led to an agreement as to how to welcome students, after the donors promised to help them.

Sources who attended the meeting indicated that there was an agreement to open 70 schools to cater to the needs of Syrian students during afternoon classes on the condition that the donors commit to paying all expenses, including: registration fees, books and hourly wages for principals, supervisors and teachers.

The cost per pupil exceeds $650, covering all administrative expenses, hourly wages, fees and book costs. This figure does not include fuel expenses in mountain areas or rapid restoration operations, as the donors had already promised.

The sources pointed out that the problem lies in the number of students, with more than 45,000 placed on waiting lists. Donors will not be able to cover the expenses of more than 20,000, but they did promise to secure additional sums of money. However, Ministry of Education representatives expressed their objection and the convening parties heard that “the ministry cannot commit to providing any additional sums from its budget due to frugality measures and the state’s refusal to make any additions to the Ministry of Education’s budget.”

Sources indicated that the donors had already informed Lebanese Minister of Education Hassan Diab that they had paid about $60 million to help the displaced Syrian students. The aid covered registration fees and book costs, which almost amounted to $9 million for nearly 45,000 students, in addition to the restoration of some schools and the conclusion of agreements with civil society associations to familiarize Syrian students with the Lebanese curriculum.

The UNHCR pointed out in its latest report that more than 41,000 children were enrolled in informal learning programs offered by the agencies in Lebanon. It also indicated that over 2,100 displaced children had benefited from the compensatory education programs and remedial classes provided by UNHCR, Save the Children and the Amel Association.

The report stated that there were currently over 33,000 displaced children enrolled in public schools. The UNHCR and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education are both seeking to approve and adopt afternoon classes as soon as possible. The report also noted that the first afternoon classes for displaced children were currently being adopted in Shebaa, South Lebanon. The school offering these classes, which is backed by the UNHCR and Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center, welcomes all Syrians who have just arrived to Lebanon. In addition, about 48 public schools in Lebanon are benefiting from restorations offered by UNICEF and the International Orthodox Christian Charity. The restorations aim at supporting public schools to accommodate Syrian and Lebanese children.

The UNHCR announced that the agencies would soon begin to implement the fuel distribution program in schools. The program will provide up to 2,000 liters of fuel for each school in order to meet the heating requirements and enhance attendance, while ensuring comfort during the winter season.

Mohyeldin Qashli, acting director-general of Education and Director of the Secondary Education Department, told As-Safir that the ministry had worked on receiving Syrian students who had already enrolled the year before, and it had waitlisted all the new names because it could not handle any new financial expenses.

Qashli asserted that the decision to sign contracts with teachers financed by the donors aimed at reducing expenses that burden the ministry.

“Perhaps the crisis will end next summer. What will we do then with the new contracts if we are funding them? After all, the ministry is already suffering due to the existing contracts. For this reason, we insist that the contracts be charged to the donors, and the administrative and educational supervision be left to the ministry to monitor the learning process,” said Qashli.

It is noteworthy that the ministry is constantly working on securing an afternoon schedule and that the majority of Syrian students are in the first and second stages of their elementary education cycle.

In a speech at the 37th session of the UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris, Director-General of Education Fadi Yarak tackled the current situation in Lebanon in relation to the Syrian crisis. “Despite our open-door policy, we are facing difficulties to integrate the growing number of child refugees, especially girls of school age,” he said.

He predicted that more than one-third of students in Lebanese public schools would be Syrian refugees, during the morning and evening schedules.

“This could threaten the stability of our education system, if the number increased, because there would be two different programs and because of the use of foreign languages,” Yarak noted.

“Out of 400,000 child refugees of school age, it is expected that about 100,000 will have access to formal education during the morning and evening classes. Meanwhile, 150,000 can follow non-formal education provided by civil associations and international organizations, including children who have been out of school for more than two years and others, mainly girls, who have not received any form of education,” he added.

The sources expressed their fear of donors failing to settle the money they owed to the Ministry of Education on time. They noted that any delay in securing funds would automatically put off the launching of the afternoon classes. The ministry is unable to secure any sums of money and will not bind itself to any obligations lest it should fail to commit to them. 

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