I went to Lebanon to teach English in a refugee camp in the Beqaa Valley. Why English? One of the barriers to getting the children into the Lebanese school system is that many Syrian children only speak Arabic, yet the Lebanese schools use English or French to teach math and sciences. I was hopeful that I was doing some good, and helping to make a positive impact on their lives. Instead, I have come away with images in my mind of the horrendous future that these children I got to know and love have in store for them.
They will be exploited, abused, possibly sold into prostitution, or forced into child labour or child marriage. Very few will get an education, and without accredited education, these children are doomed to a life of exploitation, poverty, and despair, which is no life at all.
Before the war in Syria, the population of Lebanon was 4 million. Now there are approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon – that means that over 1/4 of the population is Syrian refugees. And it is estimated that over 400,000 are children not in school.
Only education can save the children, but first the barriers to Syrian refugees receiving accredited education in Lebanon need to be solved.
With such a large population increase there was no room in the schools for more students. To address this Lebanon has 1278 schools managing increased numbers of students and started a second-shift school system in over 250 schools and in near future are hoping to double this. The Lebanese children go to school earlier in the morning until noon and the Syrian children come in the afternoon. Syrian teachers, refugees themselves, are hired to teach the second shift. The opportunity for more is there but they need more financial support.
Many Syrian students have missed more than two years of school. An accelerated learning program, regulated by the Lebanese Ministry of Education, has been set up so that children can catch up in an intensive 4-month program. Upon completion of this program, the children can enroll in public school. In partnership with NGOs like World Vision, the ministry has hired 400 new teachers, but it needs more cooperation with UNICEF, Save the Children, and other charity organizations running informal schools.
The distance to public schools prohibits children living in the Lebanese refugee camps from attending public schools. Parents would need to cover the cost of transportation, which is approximately $66 per month. Increased funding for the second-shift schools may cover this; if not, it would be nice to see UNICEF or Save the Children step up.
To give my readers at home a visual of the camps picture the Fraser Valley, one hour away from Vancouver, and how it runs along the unprotected border of the United States. Visualize all of the towns like Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Aldergrove and Langley – towns where there are many schools. Now rename them. The Beqaa Valley, one hour east of Beirut, runs along the border of Syria and includes the city of Zahle (where I was), Chtoura, Baalbek and Qaa. Now imagine every farm field between 0 and 16th Avenue and all of Sumas prairie, every one of them, with 40 to 50 tents where families are living.
Many refugee parents are unaware that their children are allowed in the public school system, or they think that it is inconvenient and unnecessary when they have an informal school available. UNICEF, Save the Children, and other organizations such as the one I was with have set up some informal camp schools, but there are certainly not enough of these to reach all the children. Each school has its own curriculum, but most do not conform to the Lebanese curriculum and so the children won’t get proper certification. The Lebanese Ministry of Education wants all of the children to go to public schools and not to the informal camp schools scattered in the valley. Charity organizations need to better coordinate with the Lebanese education system.
Many children often have to stay home to look after their younger siblings while their parents are working. It would help tremendously if charity organizations could set up a daycare system so those children having to watch siblings could go to school. Plus, the structured daycare will stop the kids from turning into little monsters – take it from me, siblings raising siblings really isn’t working out very well.
Other children are unable to go to school because they must work to help support the family. This financial constraint is by far the biggest barrier to education. This problem runs deep and involves many issues which I will explain in, Lost Generation – Part 3 – Exploitation of Refugees.