Since the beginning of the turmoil in Syria, more than one million Syrians have been forced to leave their country and find refuge in Lebanon, a small neighbouring country with limited resources and its own political, social and economic challenges. This report presents the findings of a pilot study that follows the Education Resilience Approaches (ERA) framework (Reyes 2013). The purpose of the research is to discover the different risks, assets, and processes that influence the learning achievement of Syrian refugee children trying to access education services in Lebanon. The main research was conducted at Jusoor’s non-formal education centre in Beirut.
The difficulties that confront Syrian children in the Lebanese educational system are not simply due to the difference in languages of instruction as it seems to be at a first glance. Although the language barrier is clearly recognized by all the stakeholders, this study reveals how many children could overcome this barrier through traditional and simple means such as extracurricular language instruction and proper support.
In addition, there are difficulties that have more structural reasons related to deeply entrenched characteristics of the Syrian society, and such difficulties are usually not taken into account in traditional refugee education programs.
For instance, this study indicates that Syrian parents from originally lower socio-economic classes have less access to provide means of support to their children. Their children seem to have experienced more violence (due to the war in Syria or potentially violence in their own families), and are more sensitive to discrimination. These combined risks make these children less resilient and push them to drop out of school. In such cases, offering language instruction adapted to the Syrian students’ needs is not enough to retain these children at school. An awareness and support program that involves the parents might have more positive impact on children’s retention.
This study also reveals that the feelings of discrimination and exclusion felt by Lebanese peers are often the result of individual and communal apprehension and not necessarily the result of real incidents (except minor ones). This indicates that programs involving both Syrian and Lebanese peers could work well and might help the Syrian children to adapt at school and give a good feeling of responsibility and inclusion to their Lebanese peers. This is especially true as the Lebanese children who go to public schools come also from the most vulnerable socio-economic classes in the Lebanese society and they share many of the same risks as their Syrian peers.
On the other hand, Syrian adults and children relate cases of mistreatment and discrimination from school staff and teachers. This also reveals the lack of proper training as most studies indicate that most of the Lebanese teachers and staff have not received any special training to deal with the massive arrival in their schools of Syrian children with special educational and psychological needs. In fact, the Lebanese educational system needed restructuring (Lebanon, Ministry of Education and Higher Education 2010) even before the spill over of the Syrian crisis. The massive arrival of refugees resulted in an upheaval that the educational system does not have the inner resources to absorb properly.