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July 30, 2013
The Government Must Improve the Access to Education for Syrian Refugees

Roundtable Discussion

The LCPS, CLS, and KAS discussion group recommends that the government takes the following six actions to provide better access to education for Syrian refugees:
  1. Create an extensive database for Syrian refugees of school-going age
  2. Train extra teachers and assign them across the country based on demand
  3. Develop a strategy with clear objectives that takes into account equal treatment of Lebanese and Syrian students
  4. Encourage schools to have double shifts
  5. Increase coordination with local CSOs
  6. Develop an anti-discrimination and social cohesion building program for the schools
The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), in collaboration with the Center for Lebanese Studies (CLS) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), held a roundtable discussion on how to improve the access to education for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, on 30 July 2013 at the Crowne Plaza hotel, Beirut, Lebanon. The meeting was co-chaired by Mr. Fadi Yarak, General Director of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and Ms. Mejda M'Rah, the Education Programme Specialist in the Regional Bureau at UNESCO. Among the participants were scholars, experts, public school teachers, government officials, and international organization representatives. After a brief introduction from Dr. Maha Shuayb, Director of the Center for Lebanese Studies and Ms. Hana Nasser, Administrative Director of KAS office in Beirut, Mr. Sami Atallah moderated the discussion.
The key issues that were highlighted are as follows:
Syrian refugee students have little access to education
A study by the CLS for UNICEF shows that only 30% of Syrian refugees of school-going age have access to education. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanese schools has dramatically increased from as low as 1,500 during the 2011-2012 academic year to 30,000 for the 2012-2013 academic year, while the government was expecting 9,000 students. The sheer number the Ministry has to deal with makes it very difficult to provide sufficient education.
Mismatch between location of refugees and schools
Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated because of the mismatch between where the Syrian refugees are settling and the number of public schools that are available. For instance, the 30,000 students are spread across Lebanon in the following way: 7% are in Beirut, 26% in Mount Lebanon, 21% in North Lebanon, 29% in Bekaa, 7.5% in South Lebanon, and 9.5% in Nabatiyeh. In some areas the demand greatly outnumbers the amount of places in a school.
A problem of numbers
The number is very large for Lebanese public schools to handle – there are 1,280 public schools in Lebanon. Syrian refugees are distributed among nearly 800 of these schools. At Lebanese public schools, fiscal and procedural arrangements are reviewed by the Ministry, yet principals have the local authority power to manage their own schools. The Ministry also contributes at the compulsory education level by covering the fees, which amounts to LL 150,000 for fees and LL 60,000 for books. On average, the cost of providing a seat for each student varies from LL 1,500,000 to LL 4,500,000 annually depending on the local conditions of each school.
A lack of documentation
Another big problem has to do with level and documentation. The Syrian curriculum does not match the Lebanese one, and most students have no documents to prove which grade they are supposed to be in. This issue is connected to that of equal treatment of Lebanese and Syrian students, meaning that Syrian students could be favoured at the expense of Lebanese ones in the application process to secondary education, or alternatively their rights to education might not be sufficiently upheld.
Violence and conflict is a concern 
Participants have highlighted the rising tension among students due to their background and nationalities.  Furthermore, many of the Syrian students suffer from trauma and stress due to what they have experienced back home. Most often, teachers are not equipped to handle such circumstances.
Weak coordination with local NGOs
Although the Ministry of Education is working closely with UNHCR, UNICEF and UNESCO, there is little coordination with local NGOs working with the schools and students. This leads to problems on the ground, and frustration among the local NGOs, as they are the most aware of the particular circumstances of a certain area.
The discussion highlighted the following key recommendations:
  1. The government should, in coordination with the UN agencies, create an extensive database for Syrian refugees of school-going age, including information on their level and obtained qualifications. This will facilitate better administration, assessment of students’ levels, and ultimately access. 
  1. In cooperation with the UN agencies, extra teachers should be trained, and teachers should be assigned across Lebanon according to regional demand. 
  1. The government’s strategy should be further developed, in accordance with all stakeholders, and with a clear vision and long-term view in mind while taking into account the ever-changing situation. It is imperative that this strategy places emphasis on equal treatment of Syrians and Lebanese, making sure one group is not benefiting disproportionally in relation to the other. 
  1. The government’s strategy should make use of the prior experience of certain successful public schools, for instance using double shifts to absorb the high number of students. The strategy could also use innovative approaches such as incorporating a mixed health and education plan, since sanitation improvements are also much needed in many schools.   
  1. There should be increased coordination with local CSOs. Through a centralized response organ with a comprehensive long-term vision, the local context should be taken into account and programs adapted to the local environment. If schools themselves are given more authority, it will be easier for them to respond to issues particular to their own context. 
  1. A broad anti-discrimination and social cohesion building program should be developed for the schools based on the experiences of the previous years. This could include using more social workers or councillors, more extracurricular activities geared at teamwork in the schools, and should utilize the families of both the refugees and the host communities, increasing their roles.

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