MAKING EDUCATION GREAT

Lebanon 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: EDUCATION

While Lebanon's education system remains one of the best in the region, low funding levels and uneven geographic distribution has not facilitated learning outcomes as evenly as the government would like.

Thanks to concerted efforts by the government and private institutions, Lebanon's education sector has made great leaps in recent years. The sector has developed well, increasing opportunities and outcomes for students across gender and class lines. Among Lebanon's youth (15-25 years olds) literacy rates are an impressive 98.4% for males and 99.1% for females, according to UNICEF. Funding for education has remained relatively low, however, and according to the most recently available data from the BankMed, the government spends only 1.6% of GDP on education. According to the European Commission, spending on higher education drops even lower, coming in at only 0.5% of GDP.

Primary Education

Thanks to efforts by the government to make primary school education free and compulsory, more students are entering the education system. In more rural areas, state schools are the main vehicle for education, allowing families to receive free education. In more urban areas, however, private schools predominate, and in the Beirut area, upward of 73% of students attend private schools.

According to the most recently available statistics from UNICEF, males still enjoy a slight advantage in terms of gross enrollment rates in pre-primary and primary school, with 83.3% for males and 81.8% for females and 109.5% for males and 106.3% for females, respectively. The slight disparity persists in primary school net enrollment ratios, with 97.3% for males compared to 96.8% for females, but reverses course slightly when it comes to net attendance ratio, with 98.4% for females and 98.3% for males, according to UNICEF.
Somewhat anemic funding levels have kept the Lebanese education system from developing even more, but observers and stakeholders are confident that funding levels will increase in the near term. A reinvigorated educational investment scheme from the government could have lasting impact on taking Lebanon's education system to the next level. A greater emphasis on geographic diffusion would also have a large impact on ensuring improved access for all Lebanese citizens.

Secondary Education

When it comes to secondary education, girls begin to consistently outperform boys across a number of key measures. In terms of net enrollment rates, female enrollment sits at 80.2%, while male enrollment is 72.3%. Additionally, net attendance ratios are much better for females, sitting at 85.2% versus 77.4% for males. In the general secondary education track, students receive schooling in humanities, sciences, economics, and life sciences. Secondary education generally lasts for three years and encompasses students from 15-18 years of age.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, the quality of Lebanon's higher education system, including secondary education, has been improving, and it rose one full spot from last year's ranking, currently sitting at 18th. The quality of the country's math and science education currently sits at sixth in the world, while internet access in schools currently ranks 86th. Students in Lebanon have the option of attending a vocational or technical education track in secondary school, an option that allows students to gain hands-on training for entering the workforce in three main areas: agriculture, industry, and service. Additionally, this track allows students to matriculate into post-secondary vocational institutions.

Tertiary Education

At last count, Lebanon had more than 40 institutions of higher education, including full universities, institutes or colleges, and institutes of religious studies. A dedication to excellence helped the country's management schools jump three positions on the Global Competitiveness Index since last year, and they currently sit at ninth place globally. Local availability of specialized training services and extent of staff training have also improved, moving from 51st to 47th and 108th to 86th, respectively.

Institutions of higher education continue to develop rich partnerships with stakeholders all across Lebanese society, striving to build a better nation through collaboration. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Joseph G. Jabbra, President of Lebanese American University (LAU), described his institution's commitment to bettering greater Lebanon through cooperation with the private sector. “We are an important part of Lebanon's society including the private sector, which is important for us,” said Jabbra. “Today, for example, banks, industries, and pharmaceutical businesses invest money, experience, and expertise in the education of young people. Without such collaborative efforts between the private and education sectors to respond to the needs of the students there is no future for them.” LAU and institutions like it are taking concrete steps toward educating their students in ways that translate into applied skills able to lead Lebanon closer to a knowledge economy.
Lebanese universities continue to record impressive numbers of female students and graduates, and many universities have focused very hard on creating an educational environment that welcomes female learners and allows them to thrive. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Dr. Fouad Ayoub, President of Lebanese University (LU), noted that 71% of students and 42% of faculty were female. The Lebanese University's dedication to inclusivity is not limited along gender lines, however, and the institution has made major efforts to welcome refugee students into the educational fold. “Syrian and Palestinian students are welcomed to LU with the same conditions as Lebanese students: symbolic fees, free registration in the open faculties, and at the closed ones after passing entrance exams,” said Ayoub. LU is at the forefront of transforming Lebanese society and education through inclusive measures and policies, creating a bright future for students of every kind.

Refugees

The massive influx of Syrian refuges entering the country, many of which are young people, has placed an extraordinary burden on the Lebanese education system. Nearly 1.5 million people have entered Lebanon, a country with a pre-crisis population of around 4 million. While Lebanon and other international stakeholders have sought to provide educational opportunities to Syrians, institutions are being taxed to their limits, and recent studies from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimate that only 41% of refugee children are enrolled in any form of formal education.

Lebanon's Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) and other international stakeholders have responded by creating a plan called Reaching All Children With Education (RACE), which creates a framework for providing refugees with education. The system is credited with extending fee waivers to all non-Lebanese school children, doubling the number of spaces made available to refugees, and waiving certain documentation requirements for students interested in matriculating into tertiary education. While RACE has met with a great deal of success, officials from the MEHE are currently working on an updated version of the plan, dubbed RACE II, which will extend the scope of the original plan by adding new areas of focus and trying to incorporate all school age children currently residing in Lebanon. These herculean efforts on the part of MEHE and the broader Lebanese educational system have helped to ensure refugees are provided with education and dignity.