By Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education
In Lebanon, the five years since the beginning of the Syria Crisis have had a significant impact on its people and its institutions. With an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees now hosted in Lebanon, a country with a total pre-Crisis population of around 4 million citizens, Lebanon is now the highest refugee-per-capita country in the world.
It was welcome to read the recent policy paper produced by the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report and UNHCR on the education needs of refugees, what it said about how other countries are coping and its recommendations for improving the situation. In Lebanon, perhaps the most distressing part of the Crisis is that there are currently over one million vulnerable children in our country. Of these, there are 487,723 refugee children between the ages of 03-18 years. Only 41% of these children are enrolled in formal education (of which 75% are in public schools). As for non-Lebanese youth, limited mobility and lack of livelihood opportunities has contributed to families turning to negative coping mechanisms such as school drop-out, engaging in low wage labor and child marriage and the risk of radicalization.
From its onset, the magnitude of the Crisis has placed an enormous strain on the delivery of education services by an already compromised public education system. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), under my patronage has been committed to addressing the right to education for the high number of vulnerable children and youth who, along with their families, are bearing the substantial burden of the impact from the Crisis.
With the support of the international community and civil society, MEHE has therefore lead the education emergency response of the Government of Lebanon through a multi-year, multi-stakeholder, nationally coherent response plan entitled “Reaching All Children with Education” (RACE) within the framework of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan. In operation since 2014, RACE has aimed to provide quality education opportunities to all children in Lebanon who have been affected by the Syria crisis and has progressively ensured the mainstreaming of displaced people into the national education system.
For instance, for the 2015-2016 scholastic year, MEHE was able to waive school fees for all Lebanese and non-Lebanese children, most of whom are Syrian refugee children, enrolled in Lebanese primary public schools. MEHE was also able to double the available school spaces for non-Lebanese children in Lebanese public schools by opening public schools for a second shift in the afternoons that only cater to non-Lebanese children. This innovative approach has allowed MEHE and its partners to support the enrolment of 53% of primary-school age non-Lebanese children, and avoid overcrowded classrooms and difficult teaching conditions.
MEHE has also taken significant moves to improve national policies that might hinder continuation of learning. On March 30, 2016, the Lebanese Cabinet announced that non-Lebanese children who did not have adequate documentation would be allowed to sit for official exams, thereby paving the way for non-Lebanese to receive certificates of completion and to transit to the next level of education.
Under my direct leadership, RACE is overseen by the RACE Executive Committee (REC) which is an advisory body that includes donors and UN agencies and manages the overall progress of the RACE implementation, as well as provides technical and strategic guidance. Its operational arm is a dedicated Project Management Unit that directly manages the implementation of the RACE plan. This government-led management structure allows for more systematic approach to policy development and monitoring, and quality assurance of all crisis-related interventions across the country. It also leverages the comparative advantage of the various field actors in a manner that strengthens MEHE’s systemic capacities.
Moreover, in order to uphold the principles of equity and inclusiveness, MEHE has taken steps to diversify education opportunities and provide alternative and flexible learning pathways to all learners in Lebanon. A national Non-formal Education policy framework is currently being designed to allow for school-aged children who missed out on several years of education to catch up with their schooling and reintegrate into the formal system through certified programs in early childhood education, basic literacy and numeracy and accelerated learning. The Accelerated Learning Program for the basic education level is already in place and has been provided by MEHE since 2015. It has benefited around 9734 Syrian refugee children of which 43% have been able to transit into formal education.
While the RACE plan has largely been effective, it has not been without any challenges. The difficulties of learning a new curriculum in a foreign language for non-Lebanese children, the need to improve outreach to not only enroll students in school, but to also ensure retention, as well as the necessity for the provision of structured, professional and consistent psychosocial support for those effected by conflict remains pressing.
In addition, due to the unavailability of sufficiently reliable data, structured data-collection systems and capacity to analyze data, the ability to adjust policies and plan programmes that accurately address and prioritize needs has been limited. At the same time, providing education of quality and relevance has been challenging due the lack of national standards that effectively measure learning achievements, as well the outdated national curriculum (Lebanon’s curriculum was last revised in 1998) and a shortage of relevant capacity development of teachers.
It is based on these accomplishments and challenges that MEHE is currently developing an updated strategy (RACE II). With an ambitious objective to reach all children in Lebanon, this updated framework envisages a more strategic approach to the education sector response on the premise of a stabilization and development agenda that will guide the work of MEHE and its partners for the next five years (2017-2021). This new strategy is also strongly aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular Goal 4 on Education, to which the Government of Lebanon is fully committed.
While scaling up on equal and equitable access, quality and relevant education, and systems strengthening, the interventions will be more holistic to address both the demand for, and the availability of, quality public education services. The RACE II will therefore focus on a more systematic approach that will guide evidence-based interventions and will develop the capacity of the public sector to deliver higher quality education services to vulnerable children and youth. As education opportunities for youth are also of strong concern, more focus on access to post-basic education will be prioritized, including secondary and vocational education.
Lebanon’s achievements and model of integrating displaced persons into its education system could not have been done without the support of the international community. However, in order to continue the work that has been done so far, and ensure the successful implementation of the RACE II framework, it is of utmost importance that donors commit to large-scale and predictable multi-year financing, as well as to providing support to MEHE and its institutions to develop their capacity to lead the planning, implementation, coordination and monitoring of the RACE II. This is the only way to build a more resilient education sector in Lebanon and safeguard the right to education for all children and youth across the country.