A paper on the conditions of the Syrian refugee students in Lebanon

Achieved by: Sabr DARWISH

Research supervisor: Dr. Youssef SALAMA, the academic director at the Democratic Republic Studies Center.

Research editor: Yousif FAKER AL DEEN

Consultant: Mr. Anwar AL-BUNNI, director of the Syrian Center for Legal Researches and Studies.

Research complexity and necessity

Researching and studying the conditions of Syrian refugee students in Lebanon are particularly important due to various factors. First, the Syrian crisis has commenced its fourth year without indications of any solution on the short or midterm. Such solution is meant to ensure the return of displaced Syrians to their homes. Second, this long lasting crisis has resulted in the largest number of refugees known to contemporary societies. 1.8 million Syrian refugees relocated in Lebanon alone; they came from all over Syria but mainly from the provinces of Homs and Rural Damascus (Rif Dimashq) according to unofficial UNHCR source. While the Syrian crisis seems to be continuing and escalating, and while the displacement of Syrian refugees seems to extend for longer time, many challenges surface that need to be addressed! On top of the list of challenges is the educational future, on the short and mid-term, of around 400 thousand Syrian students. These refugee students were deprived of one of the basic Child Rights according to international conventions i.e. the right of a secure, flexible, and productive education. Despite the insufficiency and inaccuracy of statistics in most cases, many sources confirm that there are 400 thousand Syrian refugee students in educational age (5-17) in Lebanon; only 15-20% of them are granted admission to official schools. The number of Syrian refugee students in educational age (5-17) registered at UNHCR exceeds 380 thousand, according to National Education Officer Agatha Abi Aad. Yet, this number needs further verification. Based on the Syrian population distribution according to the indices of the Central Bureau of Statistics-Damascus, the age group (5-17) makes around 40% of the general population. Applying this figure to total number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon shows that the actual number of Syrian students is 600 thousand; that is an increase of 200 thousand to the circulated numbers! According to different sources, 15-20% of them (80-90 thousand) are enrolled in Lebanese official schools up to the end of 2014; while in the academic year of 2012-2013 the number was 43,537 students according to the Lebanese Statistics Bulletin. Despite the lack of accurate statistics of Syrian students in other educational sectors, the circulated numbers indicate that 16,500 have enrolled in private Lebanese schools. As for students enrolled in the schools of Syrian National Coalition and of other NGO schools, statistics are either unavailable or unreliable.

Whatever the case may be, we will take into consideration all the aforementioned discrepancy of statistics and severe shortage in data, and focus on the general environment and conditions Syrian students in Lebanon are subjected to. Needless to say that we will approach this matter with utmost prudence taking into consideration that the number of Syrian students who had access to the educational process – up to the date of this paper – is around 90 thousand enrolled in Lebanese official schools, the remaining are enrolled in other educational sectors.

Research questions

This research will seek answers to a set of questions the most important of which are:

  • How does the chart of Syrian students’ distribution to different educational sectors in Lebanon look like?
  • To what extent were these students actually able to obtain their right of education?
  • How secure was the educational environment Syrian students have affiliated with? How facilitated for them was the access to education? What are the main problems they or their parents have faced?
  • How were the challenges addressed that faced the educational process officials in Lebanon with all their various affiliations?

Research objectives

This study aims to provide information about the condition of the educational process that Syrian students in Lebanon are subjected to. It also tries to shed light on a set of intertwisted mechanisms that affect the adopted curricula and education method, and on the socio-psychological aspects that characterize the educational conditions of Syrian students in Lebanon.

On the other hand, this research will attempt to review the nature and flexibility of different educational curricula (that Syrian students are subjected to) in Lebanon. Problems and difficulties that students face within the course of educational process will also be discussed.

The main objective of the research will be putting forth the complexity of the educational process in Lebanon, for Syrian students. By doing so, we hope that competent authorities will enhance their performance for the sake of improving the educational process as well as providing better humanitarian and productive educational conditions for Syrian students in Lebanon. We sincerely hope that our research would affect the political decision regarding the educational process in Lebanon.

Conclusion and recommendations

The condition of Syrian students in Lebanon is very gloomy while their future, if there is one, is overwhelmed with misery and bitterness: a timeless crime is committed against an entire generation of Syrian children! If the conditions lasted and the Syrian crisis did not ameliorate on the short on midterm, this generation will be alienated from education and learning: the tragic consequences are hard to predict and definitely harder to counter!

Our research conclusions coincide with many of those of other reports that studied the conditions of Syrian students in Lebanon: the majority of those students experience a bitter feeling of isolation and insecurity. In spite of that, there isn’t any indication of sincere endeavors by the competent authorities and partners to address this issue and alleviate its consequences!

Our disclosing conclusions indicate that less than 50% of Syrian students in Lebanon acquire proper education, and that the educational process for the majority of them is nothing but literacy education. This is the very consequences of which UNHCR has forewarned at the end of 2013 as per its statement “half the Syrian children, who are in educational age, do not get any education!” The same report mentioned that around 200 thousand Syrian children do not affiliate with any educational process; a number that will definitely increase with the passing of time and not the other way around.

The crisis of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon is of various aspects. They neither begin with the difficulty and inflexibility of Lebanese curriculum, nor end with almost absolute absence of the competent/qualified teams necessary for the psychological rehabilitation and support for children the majority of whom suffer from war traumas.

The Syrian crisis has been going on for over four years, and time does not foreshadow indications of any solutions that ensure the returning of Syrian refugees to their homes. Yet, the issue of the education of Syrian students has not been handled with the gravity that corresponds to the magnitude of the catastrophe at hand.

In both official and private schools, children encounter many challenges that are quite difficult to overcome without help. Especially those related to the foreign language used to teach the curriculum. In most cases, special support programs for those children are not available! As for the mingling/association between Syrian students and their Lebanese peers – and the sequential cases of violence and discrimination against many of them – there seems to be no plan to address such issues except that of separating the students into two different attendance shifts or into different classrooms.

According to the testimonies given by Syrian students, they all confirmed they suffered from acts of discrimination. Such acts have forced 12-years-old Adam to leave the official school despite all its educational benefits, and join a private Syrian school that offers pre-school education only. In another case, 11-years-old Mohammed (a Palestinian refugee formerly resided in Syria) could not conceal his happiness for having been separated from his Lebanese peers and shifted to the evening class. In fact his mother confirmed that his study and grades improved after that separation and shift!

As for NGO schools, enormous endeavors are made to help children overcome the issues they face. According to one of the counselors, facing the psychological issues is the top priority in the list of concerns, even before education.

As a matter of fact, there was an easily observed improvement on the behavior of students of these schools; such improvement was evident in the drawings of the children. This proves the importance of having competent and qualified teams to conduct psychological rehabilitation and guidance. Comparing between the drawings done a year before and those done lately by the same children, we notice a shift from previously dominating black, grey, and red colors to blue and green… and instead of war themes that include depictions of injured, casualties, and destruction, we see images of nature, prairies, and sea which are the subjects of interest for normal children in this age.

On the other hand, the majority of the Syrian children live in crowded residencies and their parents suffer extremely bitter and hard circumstances that do not leave them enough time and stamina to even communicate with their children let alone taking care of them. Therefore, these particular schools turned into a sanctuary and a shelter where they not only have bigger playgrounds compared to their houses, but also develop a sense of self-esteem enhanced by teachers. Besides that, the teachers promoted discussions with those children that were very important opportunities for them to express their ideas and concerns. Finally, we have to establish that the endeavors made by international organizations and sponsors of the educational process have resulted in receiving 25% of Syrian students in Lebanon, and ensuring they get a proper education. However, these endeavors have to be tripled in order to put an end to the deterioration of the educational conditions of Syrian children in Lebanon. Unfortunately, up to the date of this paper, we did not have any indication of the slightest increase in these efforts! In relation to the educational process of Syrian refugee students in Lebanon, the following are some of the most critical issues that need to be addressed urgently:

  • To establish solid partnerships between Syrian educational authorities and the concerned international organizations in order to find an enduring solution for the deprivation of Syrian refugee students, in Lebanon, of their right of education.
  • To work on determining the nature of the curriculum designated for Syrian children, taking into consideration the Syrian national interest as well as the best general welfare of children in obtaining an education that provides unifying educational communal norms.
  • To exert pressure on the Lebanese authorities to legislate more flexible laws that take into consideration, the international conventions related to the right of education.
  • Syrian activists should make every effort in order to crystalize a plan to establish a higher counsel for education that standardizes educational curricula and takes charge of providing educational requirements for Syrian refugee children.
  • To provide training courses for educational workers in order to enable them to deal with education under emergency conditions.

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