Hana Addam El-Ghali | Friday, February 15, 2019
Universal declarations, international agreements, and national laws declare education as a right for all. However, this is not the reality for many children around the world today. Despite dire circumstances children are facing, education remains a right that should be protected by national authorities within a state.
Over the past nine years, large numbers of Syrian citizens have been forced to migrate to neighboring countries. This forced displacement has had severe implications on Syrian children’s ability to pursue their education. It is estimated that 140,000 Syrian children were born in Lebanon between 2013-2018, many of these children are now school aged and are among the estimated 487,723 children in Lebanon between the ages of 3 and 18 years. UNHCR has reported that more than half of school-aged Syrian refugee children in Lebanon were not enrolled in schools during the academic year 2017-2018.
The situation becomes more critical at the tertiary level whereby only 6% of Syrian youths are studying in local universities. This decrease in the number of children and youth who transition from primary to secondary school and then to tertiary education is typical within emergency contexts similar to what Lebanon has been witnessing since 2011. The number of Syrian children and youth who successfully transition from one educational level to the next has significantly decreased, with high drop-out rates at grades 4 and 7. The path to attaining education within the context of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon is a rather broken one, which causes one to wonder what is next? How can one address this “lost generation”?
Recent studies document that almost all refugees who complete secondary school are eager to pursue tertiary education. However, many of these young people face financial, academic, legal, and other challenges that prevent them from further pursuing their education. In 2017-18, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon reported that 2,000 Syrian students were enrolled in public secondary schools and 7,315 Syrians were studying at local institutions of higher education in the country.
Considering that Lebanese higher education is a predominantly private sector, a large number of Syrian students enrolled at universities are self-paying. Many of the students who are on scholarships still struggle with their legal status in Lebanon. In fact, renewing a Syrian student’s residency documents on a yearly basis remains a highly challenging process. Expired residency documents present a threat for students when commuting to the university, as well as being an additional deferment in registration. Another challenge facing Syrian refugees’ access to higher education is their inability to present proof of prior learning or authenticated academic documents due to the destruction of some academic institutions in Syria or for safety concerns related to seeking authentication from certain official entities. It has also been reported that a number of young Syrians in Lebanon have pursued the Syrian Coalition Baccalaureate which is not administered by the current Syrian government nor recognized by the Lebanese authorities as a valid grade 12 certification. In such circumstances, Syrians with the Syrian Coalition Baccalaureate cannot pursue any higher education in Lebanon.
Many of the Syrians who choose to pursue higher education in Lebanon also face some institutional hurdles, including language proficiency and the capacity to easily integrate within the university environment. For a non-citizen – and even for many citizens – enrolling in a university in Lebanon require the availability of funds to pay tuition fees, and other related expenses such as commuting to the university and paying for books and other academic essentials. Despite the abundance of scholarships granting tuition fee coverage for Syrian students, many remain unable to pay for their education. Therefore, dropping out of college to get married or to work in order to attend to family responsibilities becomes necessary.
Due to Lebanon’s increasingly complex political, economic, and social environment, traditional means of mitigating the challenges faced by Syrians may no longer work. It is important to consider the large number of Syrian children and youth who will not have an opportunity to claim what is rightfully theirs, and that is the right to an education. Therefore it is essential to find innovative ways to transform the Syria’s “lost generation” into an “alternative generation” that will add value to the host community, the direct Syrian community and their future home country. The Syrian children and youth represent the human capital of a population that has been forced to migrate. However, like any human capital approach, finding innovative ways to invest in the education of this population will pay off in one way or another. Thinking of education routes that do not entail the traditional school or university system we are accustomed to becomes a pressing need. We are facing circumstances that are quite unusual with increased forced migration and protracted crises. Therefore, we need to acknowledge alternative models of education that will continue to serve the right to education.
There is an urgent need to find durable solutions in supporting Syrian refugee youth in Lebanon during the critical period of transitioning from secondary school onward.Career counseling and guidance can help students choose which majors to enroll in at the university. For students in secondary schools, particularly for those who choose to register in universities, planning effective bridging programs with psychosocial interventions increase their chances at succeeding in college. Pursuing tertiary education can be key in ensuring that these young adults secure jobs and attain sustainable livelihoods.
Finally, it is critical to develop innovative teaching and learning means for reaching all children and youth who may not have the opportunity to access education through the traditional means. This includes supporting the development of mechanisms such as connected learning. These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive, but rather descriptive as to what may be sought as we near a decade of hosting vulnerable children and youth from Syria, and we still struggle with providing them with a basic need and a human right: education.
Hana Addam El-Ghali, Director,Education and Youth Policy Research Program, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut.
In line with its commitment to furthering knowledge production, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs publishes a series of weekly opinion editorials relevant to public policies.
These articles seek to examine current affairs and build upon the analysis by way of introducing a set of pragmatic recommendations to the year 2019. They also seek to encourage policy and decision makers as well as those concerned, to find solutions to prevalent issues and advance research in a myriad of fields.
The opeds published by IFI do not reflect the views of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and are solely those of their authors.