Education and the Syrian refugees in Lebanon: a roundtable discussion with Dr. Adnan El-Amine and Mr. Walid Daou

April 17, 2014

On the 17th of April, Lebanon Support organized a roundtable discussion about education and the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The event was a first of a series of discussions designed to disseminate papers and research published on our online platform the CSKC (Civil Society Knowledge Centre) and to stimulate debate within civil society spheres in Lebanon.

The discussants were Dr. Adnan El Amine, author and founder of the Lebanese Association of Educational  Studies and of the Arab Educational Information Network (Shamaa), and Mr. Walid Daou,  writer and education activist, and public school teacher. Participants included academics, civil society actors, donor representatives, teachers and education specialists.

The session discussed a paper commissioned by Lebanon Support and written by Mr. Walid Daou and published on the CSKC, moreover the session also explored the situation of the public schooling system in Lebanon, its capacity to host Syrian refugee students, and recommendations to better the education conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The panelists’ presentations reviewed figures and statistics from published reports to prove that public schools in Lebanon have enough spaces available to host new Syrian refugee students. They placed the current refugee crisis in a context of the state’s failure to provide basic public rights to its citizens and to properly distribute resources. The public education sector was ridden with issues and shortcomings prior to the influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon three years ago; mainly, the curriculum has not been updated since the year 2000 in spite of needs to reevaluate and adjust it. Moreover, in response to certain political pressures, public schools can hire persons with no education diploma as teachers. This has caused the devaluation of the quality of public education and prompted many students to transfer to private education, and these issues cannot be ignored when addressing the education of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Attendees raised other important matters to take into account in the discussion, which would constitute challenges to be faced in order to improve the educational experience of Syrian refugees, as well as Lebanese students. One main concern is the discrepancy between the Lebanese and Syrian curricula, Syrian students might face some difficulties at first to adapt to the Lebanese system/curriculum, and some are systematically admitted into lower grades because of language issues (since the Syrian curriculum is taught in Arabic, while the Lebanese is taught in a combination of French or English and Arabic).

In addition, many children don’t have their official school certificates with them so they couldn’t provide proof of their grades, but also could not register for official exams. Which brings up the issue of accreditation of non-formal education offered to the refugees. Some attendees voiced the importance that the Syrian refugee community organizes itself to identify potential teachers who would be better suited to teach the Syrian curriculum.

Discrimination and almost constant tensions between Syrian and Lebanese students is also worthy of noting, as a manifestation of the racism of the Lebanese society but also the exasperation/frustration of host communities by the presence of refugees. Victims of bullying, Syrian students might be distracted from studying, if not dropping out altogether from schools. Some attendees raised the fear of facing another crisis similar to that of the Palestinian refugees which ended up being governed by a specially created UN body, UNRWA.

While participants talked about a need to create a network between Lebanese and Syrian NGOs in order to better coordinate efforts, on the one hand, many insisted on the importance of having a state policy in response to the issues in public education instead of scattered civil society action. The discussion concluded on the necessity to address these challenges in order to avoid the danger of illiteracy facing the generation of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.