UNESCO schools give hope to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

“Enrolling in this school gave me hope,” says Asma Al Ahmad who fled the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic and found refuge in the Bekaa region of Lebanon. The 16-year-old girl was deprived of education for two years, living in a refugee camp in Saadnayel. Last year, she was offered the opportunity to resume her education at a middle school established by UNESCO to provide educational complementary support programmes for young displaced Syrians. "I hope I will have a future and succeed in life, she says. "I hope that one day I will realize my dream: to become an engineer.”

The Syrian war has led to wide-scale displacement in the region and in the world, disrupting many vital social sectors in host countries. It has put considerable pressure on communities especially in the education sector. Lebanon alone has received around 1.1 million refugees, with 483 000 refugees of school age (between 3 and 18 years) These are critical years for students who have lost their homes and dreams all at once. According to UN estimates, only 3% of Syrian refugees aged between 15 and 18 complete secondary studies. There is an urgent need for capacity building to create inclusive and peaceful learning environments to welcome Syrian children.

“All I wish for is that more and more Syrian refugees enroll in this school, and not be deprived of their right to education,” says Asma.

The UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States, with funding from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief / Saudi Arabia) is providing innovative and diverse educational pathways for Syrian children and youth in Lebanon so that young women and men in crucial formative years are not left without life and work opportunities.

Increasing learning opportunities for Syrian refugee children

The “Supporting the Completion of Basic Education for the Syrian Refugees in Lebanon” project targets more than 8200 refugee children and aims at increasing learning opportunities and ensuring retention for at-risk Syrian students in Lebanon, especially at the middle and high-school levels. This project is linked to initiatives related to the education of Syrians in Lebanon, in an attempt to bridge the gap and complement recent efforts.

With funding KSRelief , the UNESCO Office in Beirut and the Lebanese NGO Kayany Foundation launched the “UNESCO Middle Schools to Support Syrian Refugees’ Education in Lebanon” in Saadnayel and Meksseh, in the Bekaa region. The schools implement an “Educational Complementary Support Program” that targets children at risk of dropping out of school, allowing them to return to the educational track and join their class according to their age, and improving their ability to continue education.

“When I enrolled in the school after two years of interruption in my studies, I realized that my educational level was very low,” said Asma. “But I was determined to succeed. In a few months, I moved up from grade 1 to grade 5. I love this school because in addition to regular classes, it also gives us the opportunity to do a variety of extracurricular activities. It provides us with everything: books, stationary, school bags, even meals.”

In addition, the UNESCO Office in Beirut has trained teachers and administrative school staff members on providing psychosocial support for students affected by the crisis, based on innovative material it developed like the “Teacher Guide Kit: Psychosocial Support and Learning in Difficult Circumstances”.

“We deal with children who have lost everything: their houses, their school environment, their family,” said Ms Nahed El Kholy, a teacher at UNESCO’s school in Meksseh. "They have serious psychological problems and we need to understand their sensitivities when teaching them. Through the training UNESCO is providing us, we are learning how to deal with the students, and how to best ensure their well-being.”

Ms. Samar Jomrok, who fled Homs in 2012 and teaches at the Meksseh School, says that the UNESCO schools are particularly efficient in attracting students and getting them back on track. “Students relate to their teachers, they identify with them, precisely because they are from the same community. Similarly, teachers have a natural ability to understand the psychosocial needs of the students because they have gone through the same human experience of displacement and war,” she says.

Vocational support programme for refugee women

Beyond providing education for children, the project also offers a vocational support programme that aims at empowering more than 2000 Syrian and Palestinian refugee women. It consists of training them with skills to increase their family income, enhance their wellbeing and increase the number of children returning to school. Training courses focus on short-term vocational sessions in the fields of sewing, embroidery, knitting, hair styling, cooking, marketing, and information technologies. The project also offers psychosocial support sessions to build the resilience of refugee women and help them cope with crises.

The project also provides remedial and homework classes for refugee and at-risk Syrian and Palestinian children, in collaboration with Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education. During the 2019-2020 academic, UNESCO will develop, jointly with the Ministry, a national accelerated learning content for homework support aimed at enhancing the learning of at-risk children and enabling them to complete their basic education.

Through the “Supporting the Completion of Basic Education for the Syrian Refugees in Lebanon”, UNESCO and partners are doing more than just providing education for Syrian refugee children. They are also giving hope to avoid a lost generation of Syrians.

Learn more about the project