UNESCO-established schools give hope to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon

UNESCO established schools in Lebanon are doing more than just educating Syrian refugee children, according to Nahed El-Kholy. “They give hope that we will not have a lost generation of Syrians, deprived of education”, she said. Indeed, Ms. El-Kholy is optimistic, especially following the opening of the UNESCO Middle School in Meksseh village in Bekaa, located about 45 km East of Beirut.

The school is one of those established in Lebanon to provide education for Syrian refugee children and alleviate the impact of the Syria crisis, which was creating huge challenges for the educational system in Lebanon. UNESCO believes education is key to ensure the well-being of children, laying the foundation for stability, security, and long-lasting peace. Inclusive and peaceful learning environments in host communities are essential to encourage Syrian children to enroll in schools and to improve their educational retention.

Funded by KSRelief as part of the program for “Completion of Basic education for Syrian Refugees” and in partnership with Kayani Foundation, these schools aim to provide Syrian students with complementary education opportunities and educational and psychological support programs to complete their basic education. The two schools, one in Meksseh, and another in Saadnayel, are based on the GHATA model. They are also based on UNESCO’s “Whole School Approach Model for Education in Emergencies”, an educational program that targets children at risk of dropping out of school.

The schools, which accommodate 500 at-risk Syrian children and include 50 Syrian teachers and administrative staff, implement a life skills learning program to achieve an educational structure that encompasses psychological wellbeing.

In this context, UNESCO also provided a training workshop on psychosocial support for vulnerable students, motivational education, and active learning.

The 3-day training  covered a wide range of topics, including: understanding education in emergencies and re-integrating children into education; dealing with challenging behaviors; promoting resilience; understanding and responding to children’s needs in difficult situations.

Ms. El-Kholy underscored the value of this training in helping her overcome the obstacles she encounters while performing her job. “We deal with children who have lost everything: their houses, their school environment, their family. They have serious psychological problems and we need to understand their sensitivities when teaching them. This training provided a platform for all participants to share experiences and best practices in terms of dealing with vulnerable students”.

Ms. El-Kholy noted that some students are reluctant to attend school because of their difficulty to adapt to the Lebanese curriculum. “They quickly lose their self-esteem and want to quit school. In this training, we acquired skills on how to engage students, stimulate them, and boost their motivation for education so they do not drop out”.

For Ms. Samar Jomrok, who fled Homs in 2012 and also teaches at the Meksseh School, 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”. At the training workshop Samar liked the participatory approach and dynamic role-play, which identified best practices to promote active learning and educational motivation in class.

Both Ms. El-Kholy  and Ms. Jomrok are hopeful and credit UNESCO’s Middle Schools for bringing back Syrian to the classroom and equipping them with the skills to survive and pursue a career and a better future.