BACK TO THE CHALK BOARD

Lebanon 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Marwan Hamadeh, Minister of Education, on the educational challenges posed by the Syrian refugee crisis as well as the possibility for system-wide reform to benefit all children in Lebanon, regardless of country of origin.

Marwan Hamadeh
BIOGRAPHY
Marwan Hamadeh is a Lebanese journalist, politician, and the current Minister of Education. As a politician, he has served in various capacities in different cabinets, including Minister of Telecommunications, Minister of Economy and Trade, Minister of Tourism, Minister of Health, and Minister for the Displaced.

What is the current status of the education system in Lebanon, and what are the ministry's ongoing plans to improve it?

Lebanon's education system has faced, and weathered, significant challenges since the start of the Syria crisis six years ago. The student population in our public schools has almost doubled. We have had to be creative, with the help of our international partners, in finding ways to enroll many thousands of displaced children while continuing to provide a quality education for the Lebanese population. By choosing to educate Syrian students alongside their Lebanese counterparts using our schools, teachers, and curriculum, we have avoided establishing parallel, and possibly inferior, approaches for children who are already extremely vulnerable. At the same time, we have used this great challenge as a way of encouraging important international investment in education in Lebanon that will be to the benefit of generations of children to come, as well as those currently in our schools.

You have highlighted the need to increase investment in the educational sector, even more so now with the Syrian refugee crisis affecting Lebanon's educational resources. What initiatives is the ministry taking to boost investment in the sector?

Educating twice as many students in the public school system has a major impact on resources—from paying teachers to wear and tear on our buildings. In addition, many children are not ready, following their experiences of conflict, to immediately enter mainstream schools. We have therefore developed, and are delivering, as a ministry and through NGOs, a series of non-formal options to help students back into school. In all of this, external support and investment has been invaluable. However, six years into a crisis that shows few signs of abating, we must maintain, and even increase, external investment if we are to continue to support and improve the education we offer to all children in our system. We are therefore working to communicate ever more clearly our work to improve efficiency in our system and manage levels of risk, alongside how we are working to strengthen learning outcomes in our schools. We know these are issues that are important to donors, and it is important to us that our partnerships are productive, trust-based, and long term. At the same time, we continue to advocate the real need for increased and more stable funding for education in Lebanon to the international community.

How are the programs RACE and RACE II progressing?

We launched RACE II, the successor to RACE, in the summer of 2016. This is an ambitious strategy taking us to 2021 that combines response to the Syria crisis with work on long-run sector development. This is important in a situation characterized by a protracted emergency. We cannot afford to neglect the development and reform needs of our education system, even as we respond to a massive humanitarian crisis. One year on, and progress is good. In the 2016-17 academic year, we enrolled a total of 200,000 non-Lebanese students in our schools. We continued to offer non-formal alternatives, developing new offers, and building pathways back into mainstream education for the most vulnerable. We are particularly pleased that this year's Brevet results are the best in five years, and that, on average, Syrian students are learning as well as their Lebanese counterparts. And we have now agreed on a new USD204-million investment in developing the education system to the benefit of these and future generations of students with the World Bank. This work will enable us to achieve some of the more ambitious long-term objectives of RACE II, beyond simply enrolling students, which will help ensure that every child is supported in our schools to learn and achieve his or her highest potential.