Lebanon
Syria

“Syrian Pupils in Beqaa - Challenges for Education and Society” Conference

September 5, 2015

Massabki Hotel – Chtaura.

“Education shall be accessible to all on the basis of merit” (Article 26 UDHR) simple, short and direct expression however its implementation on the ground can be complicated and sometimes impossible.

Some chocking numbers are worth to be mentioned. From around 400,000 Syrian School-aged Children, only between 14 and 16.5% are enrolled in educational institutions, after four years of refuge in Lebanon.

Alerted by the current situation, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation – Beirut Office  and the Education Sector in Future Movement in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) organized a conference entitled “Syrian Pupils in Beqaa - Challenges for Education and Society” on September 5, 2015 at Massabki Hotel – Chtaura, Lebanon.  

Pre-conference meetings, field visits and cooperation with the ministry draw the principle topics that have been discussed in three discussion panels:

Panel 1: Syrian Pupils in Lebanon… Facts, Policies and Beyond.
Panel 2: Needs and Challenges for Beqaa Schools: The Perspective of Principals and Teachers
Panel 3: Repercussions of the Educational Crisis on the Society

 

An auditory of 120 of participants, gathering Members of Parliaments, representative of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, head of municipalities and councilors, school teachers, principals of schools in the Beqaa Region and representatives of various Non-Governmental Organizations, was present to discuss the challenges and policies and to actively suggest recommendations for future projects.

 

The conference inaugurated at 9:30 am with a opening note for Dr. Nazih Khayat- General Coordinator of the Education Sector in Future Movement. After welcoming the audience, Dr. Khayat expressed his solidarity with Syrian refugees facing difficult living conditions on a daily basis. He stressed on the responsibility that the hosting Lebanese community should assume in order to help the refugees to overcome the current situation. Dr. Khayat said “We should be alerted by the situation of Syrian pupils who the majority of them are out of schools”, adding that one should always remember that “Ignorance is a major factor leading to extremism”. 

Mr. Ulrich Wacker, Resident Representaive of Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Jordan and for Lebanon, Iraq and Syria stressed on the importance of having principals and teachers in the crowd since nobody knows better than them what the problems schools are confronted with. He added “Education and training are the passports of young people towards their future. Education is about personal competences. It’s about parents and academic teachers who serve as examples, as role models. Education is about values. Education is the most important capital of a people and its best chance towards its future. This is true for the kids in Lebanon, those of Syria and for young Germans”.

The opening ceremony was concluded with a speech for the Ministry of Education and Higher Education represented by Mrs. Sonia Khoury who introduced briefly the ministry’s policy toward Syrian pupils.

 

 

 

Panel 1: Syrian Pupils in Lebanon… Facts, Policies and Beyond.

 

Mrs. Sonia Khoury, Head of the Project Management Unit at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, opened the first panel with a keynote speech drawing the situation of Syrian pupils all over the Lebanese territory in general and the Beqaa area in particular. Mrs. Khoury presented the main challenges facing the educational sector. She said “ the barriers are very hard to cross since the problem is not purely educational or purely related to the infrastructure of the public schools. It is a mixture of challenges that can be divided into three groups ; first the infrastructural challenges related to the capacity of schools to accept new students , second the financial challenges and third educational challenges facing Syrian students especially that the gap separating the Lebanese from the Syrian curriculums is very wide”.

From this perspective, Mrs. Khoury underlined the actions made by the Ministry through the RACE (Reaching All Children with Education) program launched by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education for Syrian children. This project aims at providing educational opportunities for 165,000 refugee children outside of the public school system and bringing the total number of Syrian children receiving some sort of schooling to 400,000 by 2016. During the school year of 2015/2016, public schools re-enrolled 106,000 Syrian refugee students that were previously enrolled during the regular schooling shift. In addition, a second shift in the afternoon was organized to reach more children with quality education without jeopardizing the public education sector with its poor infrastructure and low students’ absorptive capacity. 

Mrs. Khoury expressed her concern toward pupils enrolled in informal educational institutions. She added “Educational NGOs gather the children and offer them tools to play and explore without following a well structured educational curriculum. Yes, children will learn how to write and read but this is not enough […] the RACE program will provide children with proper education with official recognition”.  Within the framework of the Ministry, Mrs. Sonia introduced also the MEHE pilot Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) that allows Syrian pupils to catch up with the Lebanese curriculum in subjects like Arabic, French or English, Mathematics and Sciences to eventually enroll in public schools in the next year. Students will take placements tests that indentify the level of remedial courses they need to take.

The presentation was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Dr. Ihssan Ayoub - Future Movement Coordinator of the Education Sector in West Beqaa.

 

Panel 2: Needs and Challenges for Beqaa Schools: The Perspective of Principals and Teachers

Moderated by Mr. Ahmed Al Maarbouni, Head of High school Education office in Future Movement – Beqaa , this session aimed at exposing the educational challenges from the eyes of teachers and principals from different areas in the Beqaa region.

Mr. Ihssab Araji , principal of Bar Elias Primary Public school, said that, according to the statistics of the Municipality in Bar Elias, 1500 Syrian school-aged children are not enrolled in any educational institution. As for the public school in Bar Elias, 603 Syrian students are enrolled between the first and second shift. Mr. Araji believed that Syrian parents coming from rural areas are not aware of the repercussions of ignorance. In fact he added, “out of ignorance, they are not sending their children to school. They prefer sending them to the field to work in agriculture and bring money”. Mr Araji , also, listed the main educational challenges facing schools , teachers and students such as:

  • Schools’ poor infrastructure
  • Educational difficulties for Syrian students (curriculums, foreign languages…)
  • High rate of school drop-outs
  • Hygiene and sanitation related problems
  • Low wages for teachers who are working for two shifts
  • Discrimination against Syrian students.

From his side, Mr. Hassan Chahine , principal of El Marj intermediate public school, agreed with          Mr. Araji and suggested effective solutions for the problems facing the public educational sector on a daily basis. The suggestions tackled the three main factors that can lead to the  success or the failure of the educational experience : teachers and principals, students and parents. What must be done is to :

  • Train teachers in order to acquire the needed skills to contain the situation,
  • Provide social and psychological assistance for both students and parents,
  • Provide for the institutions all needed educational materials so parents will not be obliged to cover miscellaneous expenses such as books, stationary and so on,
  • Employ contractual teachers in order to start the school year on time.

The third intervention in this panel was done by Mr. Hussein EL Solh, principal of Zahrat El Adab School, which is a semi-free private school in Baablek. Unlike public schools, Mr. Hussein explained that since the Ministry prohibits Syrian students’ conscription in semi-free private schools, their numbers are minimal.  Furthermore, he added to the list of challenges two main obstacles: first the absence of free transportation for the students from camps to schools and second problems related to the legal documents of the Syrians especially that most of them fled and entered Lebanon illegally.

The panel ended with a Q&A session.

Panel 3: Repercussions of the Educational Crisis on the Society

Moderated by Dr.Nazih Khayat, General Coordinator of the Education Sector in Future Movement, the last session aimed at exposing the repercussions of the Syrian educational Crisis on the hosting society. From this perspective, Dr. Hala Nawfal , an expert in demography and dopulation and Dr. Anne Marie Ghossein , expert in social psychology were present to discuss the repercussions from two different point of views.

From her side, Dr. Hala Nawfal mentioned that 75% of Syrian refugees are youth under the age of 30. She insured firmly that these children need to get proper education that introduces them not only to Math and sciences but also to social values that chisel their personalities.

From another perspective, Dr, Anne Marie Ghossein talked about the psychological status of refugees and especially of children refugees. In addition to the atrocities that these children were exposed to in Syria, they are now suffering from social discrimination and marginalization. Dr. Ghossein recommended the Lebanese hosting community to become more inclusive and accept the refugees who came to Lebanon by force not by free will.

 

Suggested by both organizers and audience a list of recommendations was announced during the closing ceremony by Dr. Nazih Khayat.  Participants, organizers and representatives of official institutions agreed on the following facts :

  • Syrian refugees should get proper education and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education should ensure this right exclusively.
  • Transportation should be free and available in all areas in order to reduce the numbers of drop-outs.
  • Parents should be aware of the importance of elementary education so their children can cope with the Lebanese education system.
  • Intensive English or French courses should be provided for Syrian students.
  • Hygiene awareness among students is a must.
  • Social integration of Syrian students in schools should be a target that can be achieved through common projects for Syrian and Lebanese.
  • Syrian students should be informed about the importance of vocational education.
  • Psychological support programs should be provided.  
  • Teachers’ wages should be increased.
  • Extra-curricular activities should be included in the second shift program.
  • Working groups should be created, in cooperation with MEHE, to foster exchange of expertise among teachers and principals.

All these recommendations will be followed up with a series of workshops designed according to the needs and challenges.

 

 

 

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