Lebanon works to enroll more Syrian children in school

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Syrian children play at Yaqteen refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley town of Qab Elias on July 15th. More than 250,000 Syrian children in Lebanon are not in school, according to a Human Rights Watch report. [Hassan Jarrah/AFP]

Syrian children play at Yaqteen refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley town of Qab Elias on July 15th. More than 250,000 Syrian children in Lebanon are not in school, according to a Human Rights Watch report. [Hassan Jarrah/AFP]

Lebanon is working to provide education to Syrian refugee children by partnering with local and international organisations and urging parents to enroll their children in public schools and informal education centres.

According to a July 19th Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, approximately 250,000 Syrian children in Lebanon are not receiving an education.

Half a million refugee children between the ages of 3 and 18 are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon.

Approximately 400,000 more are not registered with the UNHCR, which suspended the registration process for Syrian refugees in May at the request of the Lebanese government.

It is not known how many of the 400,000 who are not registered are out of school, Lebanese Minister of Education and Higher Learning Elias Bou Saab said.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, Bou Saab said that 205,369 Syrian students were enrolled in public, private and semi-private schools in Lebanon.

More than 1,275 Lebanese public schools have opened their doors to Syrian students, the UNHCR said in May, while a further 259 schools are operating on a two-shift system to accommodate the higher number of students.

Non-formal education

With support from the UK, Lebanon also launched an intensive non-formal education programme, Reaching All Children with Education (RACE), for children most in need, as a prelude to providing them with formal education.

The UK has been supporting Lebanon's education sector since 2013, and has pledged £300 million ($394 million) to date in support for refugees and host communities, the bulk of which goes to providing education to Syrian children.

On August 3rd, British Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel announced a new £60 million ($80 million), four-year grant that will support a programme to educate all children in Lebanon.

RACE programme director Sonia Khoury told Al-Mashareq the ministry "continues to develop with its local and international partners many education programmes to serve all Syrian children and enable them to attend formal schools later on".

She said 150,000 Syrian children between the ages of 6 and 15 are enrolled in Lebanon's public schools, distributed among morning and afternoon sessions.

"In parallel, we are working on [providing] non-formal education based on specific programmes to enable out-of-school children to return to school, as our goal is to reach all school age children," she said.

Reaching out to parents

The main reason 250,000 Syrian children are out of school, Khoury said, is "the lack of sufficient awareness on the part of parents, who do not register their children in schools, despite the fact that it is free of charge".

Many of these children are in the workforce, she said, adding that the biggest problem involves children 15 and older who are working.

"To remedy that, we are working on getting this age group to return to school through awareness campaigns directed at them and their parents, to encourage their return to school after undergoing certain programmes to help them catch up and prepare them to return to education once again," she said.

UNICEF "seeks to increase the number of Syrian students in public schools and non-formal education programmes to more than 200,000 for the next school year", said Salam Abdul Momen al-Janabi, media officer for UNICEF in Beirut.

While education and registration continue to be free of charge, "we are working with the Lebanese Ministry of Education to increase the number of seats for them as part of the intensive education programme to ensure their integration and enrollment in regular classrooms", he told Al-Mashareq.

Vocational training

UNICEF is exploring the option of launching vocational training programmes for children age 13 and under, al-Janabi said, which would develop "basic reading skills" to assist those who wish to enroll in vocational or technical training.

Al-Janabi said UNICEF also "will intensify the early childhood development programme by teaching basic subjects that will enable children to register in schools, and this as part of the non-formal education programme".

SAWA for Development and Aid, a humanitarian organisation that runs non-formal education centres in several Bekaa Valley refugee camps, has been "working to fill the educational void for a large number of children who are not enrolled in school", said director Haider Hammoud.

"We are trying, at our centres in Barelias, al-Dalhamiya, Saadnayel and other areas, to fill the void with several purposeful educational and cultural programmes that help us spur parents to register their children in formal education schools," he told Al-Mashareq.

Hammoud said the circulated figure of 250,000 children out of school can be attributed to the "unwillingness of their parents to register [them in school] and putting them to work instead, and also the shortage of classroom seats".

Additionally, he said, international financial support for education is insufficient.

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education is important