With the Syrian conflict entering its fifth year, conditions have only worsened for the millions of refugees affected by the conflict. According to the UNHCR, the vicious spiral of violence in Syria has forced 4.8 million people out of their homeland to seek refuge in neighboring countries, with some embarking on life-threatening journeys to Europe. In Lebanon alone, the number of registered refugees stands at 1,033,513 as of June 2016, although non-official figures cite a number twice as high. More than half of registered Syrian refugees are under 18.
Estimates suggest some 2.4 million school-age displaced Syrian children have not attended school since the conflict erupted. In Lebanon, out of the 487,000 refugees aged three to 18, only 151,000 are enrolled in formal primary or secondary education. The clear vulnerability these refugees face has mobilized international organizations and NGOs in host countries to work to avoid a lost generation. Lebanon has not been the exception, and the country is launching different initiatives aimed at enrolling these children in school.
The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP), a joint program by the Lebanese government and the UN aimed at maintaining Lebanon’s stability amid the Syrian refugee crisis, will make education a priority in line with a USD2.1 billion assistance plan for Syrian and Palestinian refugees, as well as for the thousands of Lebanese impoverished due to the crisis. The plan calls for additional funds for the 700 Lebanese public schools that are currently overpopulated and will enhance the implementation of the Reaching All Children with Education (RACE) program, which commits to granting vulnerable school-age children access to education through formal and informal systems; RACE hopes to enroll 400,000 Syrian children by the end of 2016. In February 2016, the Lebanese government also committed to granting all Syrian refugee children an education by 2021 through the RACE II strategy.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) has also structured plans of action alongside UNESCO to foster better teaching methods, create a stronger communication network within the education system, and encourage the private sector and NGOs to collaborate in strengthening the local education system. MEHE also launched a support program targeting some 20,000 Syrian students at risk of dropping out of school, and it has doubled the number of hosting schools for Syrian children, contributing to reducing the number of not-in-school children from 78% in 2014 to 49% at the beginning of 2016.
UN agencies have also played an important role, supervising and assisting the government’s plans at every step. UNESCO launched its Bridging Learning Gaps for the Youth initiative to bring quality to the education granted to refugees, establish even conditions for primary, secondary, and tertiary school students, and empower the education systems in the four countries where this program is being held: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. The program has allocated an initial budget of USD17 million for the application of this program in Lebanon. Additionally, UNICEF has launched an effort to raise funds across the international community to meet the requirements for a sustainable education system. It has also promoted the practice of non-formal learning to help the thousands of child laborers in the country access education and to help those who dropped out school reenroll.
The initiatives to battle a lost generation of Syrian children have placed Lebanon against yet another challenge in its already troubled economic and political situation. Despite all the efforts coming from the public and private sectors, NGOs, and international organizations, an estimated USD350 million is needed annually to cover the schooling needs for Syrian refugee children in the country. Out of the five countries in the Middle East that have taken in the largest amount of Syrian refugees, Lebanon holds the highest percentage of school-age children out of school (80%), against 45% in Jordan, 47% in Egypt, 63% in Turkey, and 66% in Iraq. It is in the hands of the international donor community to guarantee that this situation will not further hinder the life prospects of hundreds of thousands refugee children.