The Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education recently embarked on a campaign, in partnership with several international organisations, to encourage Syrian refugees and Lebanese nationals to return to school.
"School Heroes", launched on August 31st, was designed in co-ordination and co-operation with UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNESCO, the World Bank and donor countries.
In addition to a media publicity push, campaign volunteers have been visiting families to raise their awareness about the importance of education and the need to enroll their children in school.
Last year, 260,000 Lebanese and 195,000 non-Lebanese children between the ages of 3 and 18 were registered to attend school.
This year, the campaign aims to "register a larger number of children in schools", said Minister of Education Marwan Hamadeh.
"Education plays a pivotal role in protecting the refugee youth and preparing them for a brighter future when it becomes safe for them to return," said UNHCR representative in Lebanon Mireille Girard.
The campaign slogan, "School Heroes", is intended as a salute to everyone who encourages or contributes to bringing school-aged children back to school, said Sonia Khoury, of the Ministry of Education.
While it is too early to predict how many students will enroll in school -- registration opens September 19th and closes October 10th -- she told Al-Mashareq she is hopeful that "the number will increase from last year’s total".
"Our goal is to have 220,000 Syrian students enrolled in our schools, be they enrolled in formal or non-formal education, literacy programmes, intensive education or early childhood education programmes," she said.
Support for secondary education
UNESCO’s role in the campaign is to support Lebanese and Syrian refugee secondary level students and cover their registration fees to encourage them to complete their education, said UNESCO campaign official Rana Abdul Latif.
"We are conducting awareness-raising campaigns in the communities and work with more than 300 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in all regions," she told Al-Mashareq.
"We explain to parents, particularly Syrian refugee parents, the importance of registering their children to improve their lives and their future," she said.
"We are currently assessing the challenges families are facing, which are mostly financial," she said, adding that UNESCO is working to resolve these issues.
Funds provided by other parties cover registration fees for primary grades, she said, noting that "we seek through recommendations we submitted to donor parties to obtain funds to cover registration fees at public secondary schools".
"At the same time, we are working on raising awareness among secondary-school-age students to assure them that there are educational opportunities available to them," she said.
Studies have shown that the number of Syrian refugees in secondary school is only a third of the total number of eligible students, Abdul Latif said, while Syrian students in universities represent only 6% of the total number of university-eligible students.
UNESCO has been working with the ministry "to facilitate the registration of Syrian students in secondary schools without the need to issue residence permits to [students] 15 years of age or older", she said.
"We inform secondary school and university students of this to encourage them to pursue their education and earn secondary education and university degrees," she said.
Reducing the school dropout rate
The School Heroes campaign enables refugee children to earn diplomas that they can eventually take back with them to their country, UNHCR assistant communication/public information officer Lisa Abu Khaled told Al-Mashareq.
"We emphasise staying in school to reduce the school dropout rate," she said. "To this end, we work to assist parents and assure them that registration in public schools is free of charge."
A large number of volunteers, including 550 refugee volunteers, are working to raise awareness among Syrian refugees by organising activities for parents.
Other activities target Syrian students, helping them stay up to speed with school work and overcome the challenges they are encountering.
"Volunteers are working to get information [to parents] on how to register their children, and on why it is important that they receive education in public schools, among other things," she said.
The number of Syrians who register in public schools "is increasing every year", she said, though "we as a commission have not yet achieved our goal of registering all Syrian students due to the challenges the refugees are facing".
The campaign's goal is to reach as many students in need as possible to put an end to the school dropout problem and child labour, she added.