This past school year, the education system in Lebanon – formal and nonformal alike – continued to face increasing challenges. In a country suffering from uncontrollable inflation, budgets are exploding, forcing private schools to increase tuitions, and hence becoming unaffordable to most families. Despite increasing tuition, teachers’ salaries have not been raised to match inflation, and a huge number of qualified teachers have left the education sector, or the country altogether, for higher-paying jobs.
In the meantime, public schools are collapsing and unable to pay decent wages to the teachers, which led to months of strikes and closures of public schools during the year. As of January 2023, the World Food Programme reported that only 46 of the required 120 school days took place. Over one million school-aged children were estimated to be out-of-school because of school closures in early 2023 (up from 500,000 in 2022).
As a result, many children, including Lebanese, have been without an education for most of the year. The worsening of the economic crisis in Lebanon has pushed many children out of school and, in 2022, an estimated 56% of Syrian households either reduced expenditure on education or withdrew children from school to survive in Lebanon.
This intensifying situation is exposing children to more risks, such as child labor, abuse and neglect, and early marriage.
Because of the high level of stress families are subjected to, domestic violence is also on the rise, highly affecting children. When parents are overwhelmed, they let their anger and frustrations out on their children more easily, and they may not be able to care or provide for their children as they ought.
Early marriage continues to be a challenge for young girls from vulnerable families, as they are prevented from continuing an education after getting married. Our partners are aware of this rising trend in Lebanon, and in several cases have been able to delay the early marriages of young female students until at least after they graduate by persuading their families. For these girls, graduation is always more sour than sweet.
In the non-formal education centers we support, some children have had to drop out to go to work with older siblings or relatives to help provide for the basic needs of their families. Some other children, although they remain enrolled, work in parallel, which affects their general health and ability to learn. Among the most vulnerable families in Lebanon, child labor has seen a sharp increase, reaching up to 10% and 25% among Lebanese and Syrian households in some areas.
This early July, around 1,600 children successfully finished the school year in the 8 learning centers we support in Lebanon. Despite all the challenges, we believe that everything these precious children are learning over the course of the years spent at our partner centers will not be wasted.
It gives them a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy, not only Arabic, but also in English. Teachers and families tell us that many children did not even know how to write their own name when they entered the centers. In many instances, the children become more educated than their parents and can, in turn, help their entire families. The children who end up returning to Syria reenter the school system there at a much higher level, which is a testament to the quality of the education provided.
Additionally, the children all receive psychosocial support in the centers, through the intervention of professional psychologists from SKILD and through the ongoing training of the educators. Because they teach the children from the heart, the centers always provide much more to the children than quality education.Raja is an Arabic language teacher we work with who confirms this:
“We love these children as our own, and I mean it wholeheartedly. We do our best to not only teach them but mentor them and provide them with tools to heal from their trauma and break free from the cycle of violence. I attend trainings and workshops with psychologists to better understand the children and be able to best care for them, each one in the unique way they need.”
Our partner educators have also been even more intentional this year about engaging the parents in the children’s education, by setting up WhatsApp groups and contacting them regularly. It created trust and respect and parents are now frequently reaching out to the teachers when they have a problem with their children, to ask for parental advice and guidance.
Finally, most centers are run through churches, which instills in their students Christian values and ethics, and assures them of their value in God’s eyes. It makes them feel loved and cared for, not only by the teachers but by God himself.
We believe the impact of the education centers in the children’ lives and communities will help them be less vulnerable through the course of their life. But many uncertainties remain for the children’s future in such a complicated context, especially for the ones who graduate and are too old to continue in the centers.
Thankfully, several centers already have or are finding ways to continue investing in the children after they graduate through youth programs and activities, pre-vocational trainings, or by referring them to other non-formal centers focused on youth.
Jana is a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon who just graduated from a partner center. She wishes to continue her education but her options are very limited in Lebanon, and her family cannot travel back to Syria. She reflects on her time at the center and on what the near future looks like for her:
“Every time I saw someone speaking with confidence in a microphone, I used to wish it could be me one day. Thanks to the center, I was able to do that by leading a discussion with younger students. I just graduated from the center and I am so proud of myself and very excited to see how much more I can do in the future! I just learnt that I might benefit from a prevocational training through the church next year. It makes me so happy because I want to continue learning and I don’t want to leave this place!”
 February 24, 2023. WFP Lebanon Situation Report – January 2023. ReliefWeb. WFP Lebanon Situation Report – January 2023 – Lebanon | ReliefWeb