Point of No Return: many of Lebanon’s children risk never returning to school
After 18 months without an education, the question for many children in Lebanon is not when, but if they will return to school
Beirut, 1 April - The social and economic crisis in Lebanon is turning into an education catastrophe, with vulnerable children facing a real risk of never returning to school, Save the Children has warned today.
Since the pandemic, more than 1.2 million children in Lebanon have been out of school. Over the past COVID-19 year, Lebanese children have received an estimated maximum of 11 weeks of education, with an even lower number of weeks in schools for Syrian children. This is according to Save the Children’s new report, Lebanon Education in Crisis: Raising the Alarm.
Even before the pandemic, the report shows that rising inequality since the onset of the economic crisis in the country has led to a gap in access to quality learning among Lebanon’s poorer children. 55% of Lebanese families are now living in poverty, with even higher rates among Palestinian (70%) and Syrian refugees (90%). Poverty is a steep barrier to children’s access to an education, as many families cannot afford learning equipment or have to rely on children to provide an income.
Many children in Lebanon have been out of school since October 2019, when protests and civil unrest affected many parts of the country. The same year saw multiple teachers’ strikes over delayed salary payments, further disrupting learning. The learning crisis was further compounded by a currency collapse, and the Beirut port explosion and COVID-19 lockdown measures.
In order to access online classes, eleven-year-old Adam* relies on a smartphone which he shares with his two sisters, or has to go to his neighbour’s house to use their internet connection.
“When they send us the lessons, I don’t understand [them] very well. If we go back to school, it will be better. But I’m scared of going back to school because what if one of my friends is [COVID-19] infected? Then [they] would infect us all?”
Four-year-old Hala*, who attends a community-based pre-school education centre run by Save the Children in North Lebanon, doesn’t speak as well as someone of her age should. Her mother said:
“If it weren’t for my constant talks with Hala in the previous year about school, I’m not sure she would have understood the concept. With lockdowns and the economic situation, Hala hardly ever leaves the house, which is not good for her mental wellbeing and her speech-therapy progress. With no schools to interact with children her own age or in the parks, I was very worried about her.
“Even though there are lockdowns, the centre keeps providing online education classes and activities, which truly encouraged me to enroll my daughter.”
Sadly, the ongoing economic crisis is pushing remote learning out of reach for more and more children. Hala’s mother said internet is getting more and more expensive as her husband is unable to find regular work. Equipment needed for remote e-larning such as laptops and tables have become unaffordable with the deterioration of the local currency.
Jennifer Moorehead, Lebanon’s Country Director, said:
“Education for thousands of children in Lebanon is hanging by a thread. And a large number of children may never get back into a classroom either because they have missed so much learning already or because their families can’t afford to send them to school.
“Children in Lebanon already had lower rates of literacy and numeracy than the average in countries across the Middle East. The longer children are out of school, the more they will fall behind.
“We are already witnessing the tragic impact of this situation, with children working in supermarkets or in farms, and girls forced to get married. Like with many crises, it is the poorest children and the country’s large number of refugees who are worst hit by the quickly deteriorating crisis.”
Save the Children warns that urgent action must be taken to ensure an entire generation does not lose the opportunity to get an education. Aside from missing out on learning, children out of school are at a higher risk to fall victim to child labour, child marriage and other forms of abuse and exploitation. Children with disabilities are also gravely impacted as they miss out on the developmental benefits of going to school and interacting with other children.
Save the Children is calling for schools to open as soon as it is safe to do so, and for all children to be enabled access to education regardless of their background or gender.