LIGHT THE WAY

Lebanon 2018 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Marwan Hamade, Minister of Education and Higher Education, on providing education to Syrian refugees, creating a 21st century education program, and Lebanon's vision 2030.

 Marwan Hamade
BIOGRAPHY
Marwan Hamadeh is a Lebanese journalist, politician, and the current Minister of Education and Higher 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 situation of the Lebanese education system, and what are the main developments over the last few years?

The education system has undergone three main developments. First, the impact of the Syrian crisis; we initially thought that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon would fall in 2017 and 2018, instead, we registered an increase in the number of Syrian children residing in Lebanon or being born in Lebanon. We currently have around 250,000 Syrian children enrolled in formal education and 70,000-80,000 in non–formal education. Another element is the commitments made by the international committee to cover education-related expenses. The Lebanese educational system needs rehabilitation, both in terms of human resources and physical infrastructure. We have recruited 12,000 Lebanese teachers to provide education to the Syrian refugees, which is a large figure for a country like Lebanon. The second important issue is the wages of professors in Lebanon. The newly introduced Law 46 in 2017, which significantly increased the salaries of professors and educators, has certain negative repercussions when applied to the private sector. Therefore, we will try to gradually introduce this law in private schools over a period of three years. Third, we recently received a loan and grant by the World Bank, allowing us to not only absorb the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon, but also provide new support to the Lebanese educational system by providing more training to professors and establishing a new curriculum, a reform needed since 1997. We are entering a new phase of progress in the education system that will allow us to move forward with our 2030 vision—one that matches the objectives of the UN and the international community.

How many Syrian child refugees are still without education?

We are approaching the target of providing 400,000 children with access to education, though around 100,000-125,000 are yet to be located because they are either working in the agriculture industry or seriously abandoned. Many of these children were too old for school when they first arrived in Lebanon; however, we are tackling this issue with NGOs and the UN. To date, less than a third of Syrian children are out of school. The core program is to integrate all children into the education system, targeting all refugees. We have Iraqi refugees as well as children from other countries. Lebanon is extremely proud of what it has provided, and the international community has praised our efforts. The only problem is that most of these efforts were paid for at the expense of our own resources. Nevertheless, we are building up a new generation of Syrians who, we hope, will be grateful to Lebanon. It is moving to see Syrian children learning French and English here.

What changes does the ministry expect to make to the existing curriculum?

We are adding certain subjects related to mathematics and IT and introducing new programs to create a 21st century education program. We are also revising the traditional classical humanities, which include philosophy, civic education, and history. A cohesive history book has yet to be written in Lebanon because of the inheritance of the civil war. I am supervising the publication of a new history book. Collective memory will be a major instrument in consolidating national consensus and civil peace.

What are the ministry's main objectives for 2018?

The ministry recently inaugurated a new center for exams that is completely automated and linked to 1,200 public schools. We will also launch the World Bank program this year. Moreover, 2018 will witness the launch of the 2030 Vision. This is the year of improvement in the quality of education and we have already kicked off several renovation projects. Notably, we have reinforced kindergarten, but we still need to improve our intermediary public school network.