The conflict in Syria is in its seventh year and there is no political solution in sight. The war has displaced 13.5 million Syrians, most of whom are living in neighbouring countries. The extent of the humanitarian crisis is also an immense challenge to host communities. Approximately 1.5 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, corresponding to one third of the Lebanese population. No other country hosts more refugees per capita.
Most Syrian refugees have no work and their resources are depleted, but also the Lebanese host community is increasingly impoverished. Children are suffering the most from this situation. Many families cannot afford sending their children to school. Instead, they often have to work and are the families’ sole income providers. Where children can go to school, learning environments are challenging. Many children are living in most difficult economic and social conditions and are suffering from traumatizing experiences leading to special learning difficulties and high dropout rates.
The Lebanese Ministry of Education has recently adopted the ambitious five-year plan RACE II (Reaching All Children with Education), aiming at integrating all 450’000 refugee children into public schools by 2021. This poses an enormous challenge to the school system, which was already in an ailing condition before the outbreak of the war in Syria. Teachers are under huge pressure. Due to scarce available resources, measures such as double shifts were introduced, with the Lebanese children attending class in the morning and Syrian children in the afternoon. Elsewhere, class sizes were simply doubled. The often underpaid and insufficiently qualified teachers are expected to work more hours in a very difficult learning environment.
Although many children have special learning needs and are at different knowledge levels due to school years missed, traditional teacher-centred teaching is still common in Lebanon. Syrian learners are, however, not even able to understand the language of instruction. In Syria, the language of instruction is Arabic while in Lebanon, mathematics and natural sciences are taught in either English or French. Teachers are not adequately trained to meet the children’s individual learning – and remedial needs. These challenges are increasingly reflected in a deteriorating quality of education for all schoolchildren and often leads to tensions, frustration and rejection.