The education sector that once made Lebanon’s pride is collapsing as the result of the economic crisis the country is going through. With the local currency rapidly devaluating and inflation soaring, the private schools which did not already shut down had no choice but to substantially increase their fees. By doing so, they have become unaffordable to most Lebanese families, more and more of whom are falling into poverty. Consequently, many children are transitioning to public schools, giving less space to non-Lebanese children because of limited capacity. As a result, more and more Syrian refugees are now out-of-school and/or engaging into child labor.
In addition to this, public schools largely did not transition to online education during the COVID-19 lockdowns, so the children who have been enrolled have faced disruption to their education since March 2020. Even when public schools sent homework to students during lockdown, many refugee children still faced difficulties to regularly follow through on lessons since they did not have adequate access to internet connection or devices.
Despite all the challenges, the eight learning centres we support in Lebanon were able to successfully implement distance learning during the lockdowns, enabling about 1,400 out-of-school children (out of around 1,600) to continue receiving quality education from their homes.
Although online learning was necessary to stay in touch with the families and help the children to continue to make progress, it was hard on everyone.
It was hard on the parents who had their children at home all day and lacked the proper resources to help them study. Imane is a Syrian mother of four children of ages four to eight. Her eldest daughter, Amal, is enrolled in one of our partner education centers. She shared with us:
“When the center switched to online learning, we tried our best so that Amal continues to study well but it was not always easy or even possible. We all use the same phone and some days it doesn’t even work. Other days, we don’t have it at home because my husband takes it with him to work, so the assignments quickly started to pile up.”
Online learning was obviously tough on the children, who were deprived of access to a safe place where they feel loved and valued and where they play with their friends.
Last but not least, it was hard on the educators, since it increased their workload significantly without the reward of witnessing the children’s progress and excitement. Samira, one of the educators we work with, confirms:
“Teaching is my passion. I love seeing the children learn, and it was very difficult for me to see them struggling to study online. They only came on site for the last two months of the year, and we were shocked to see how much they were able to catch up on during this short time, because of how happy and motivated they were to be back. They excelled and seemed like heroes to us!”
Now that the summer break is over, the 1,600 children who have gone back to our partner learning centers to study in person couldn’t be happier, and their parents more relieved. But although we all want to remain hopeful that this is the start of a more normal year, many uncertainties remain that might jeopardize the centers’ ability to remain open.
The biggest question mark remains the ability to find fuel and its cost. Not only have gasoline prices been steadily increasing as the country has moved to end fuel subsidies, but it is also increasingly difficult to get ahold of across the country, with never-ending queues forming in front of the stations that are still open. With an average price of 20 liters of gasoline at LL234,000, (up from about LL40,000 in June), some people now spend their entire salary on gasoline, and they usually wait for hours to be able to fill their tank. A shortage of gasoline would prevent the buses from bringing the children to the centers and many teachers from commuting to work.
The impact of fuel shortages is not limited to the teachers’ living conditions and transportation. It will inevitably expand to working conditions in schools, as fuel is needed to produce private electricity at a time when the Lebanese state provides as little as four hours of electricity per day. The education centers are now making costly investments, such as stockpiling fuel, purchasing generators, or even installing solar panels, in the hope that they can remain open in the coming months.
That’s without even mentioning the COVID-19 situation, in a country where the Delta variant is spreading and still few people are fully vaccinated. Having to think of all of this is exhausting and concerning for the teachers who are all suffering from the crises on a personal level as well. At a recent training MERATH held for the educators we are working with, one of them told us:
“We are struggling. We are also affected by the crises. Although we want school to be in person, we don’t know how we will make it. We are constantly thinking of power, fuel, water, and other shortages. We can barely focus! It’s so difficult and we are exhausted, but we definitely cannot have classes online.”
What keeps us all going is looking back at all that we have been able to overcome already because God provided what we needed. This renews our faith that no matter how hopeless the situation may seem, God is in control and will continue to make great things happen in us and through us. Samira confirms:
“My faith helped me a lot because when it was difficult for me to be okay with children barely learning online, I was able to trust that God brought these children to us for a reason, and that He will do something through them. I always tell myself, today is a good day and tomorrow will be better. God will always do something new. Our faith is what got us as teachers through the year.”
 Private schools used to welcome more than 70% of all Lebanese children in the country.
 At least 74% of the population is now living below the poverty line, compared with 25% in 2019.
 In 2020-2021, 190,600 Syrian refugee children registered in public primary schools, a decrease from 196,238 in the year before.
 In a survey conducted by UNHCR, it was reported that 11% of Syrian refugee households sent their children into child labor since October 2019 in comparison to 5% in the year before.
 According to the UN vulnerability report, 17% of Syrian children between the ages of six and 14 were able to take part in online learning classes.
 As of October 8, 2021