Double-shift schools

An innovative approach to providing education to Syrian refugee children

The Syrian conflict left a generation of children with little hope for the future. Theirworld’s innovative thinking and tireless campaigning led to the creation of Double-Shift Schools: a way for refugee children in Lebanon to receive an education and, in the process, become less vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and violence.

In 2013, two years after the start of the civil war in Syria, the impact on a whole generation of children was devastating. 1.9m Syrian children had dropped out of school. A million Syrian children were now refugees. 3,000 schools had been damaged or destroyed. 

500,000 school-aged Syrian refugee children were living in Lebanon, with very few of them in school or receiving any form of education. Having lost their homes, and in some cases their families, they now faced the prospect of losing any hope for the future. 

In the absence of the structure a school education provides, displaced children are at a high risk of falling prey to exploitation, violence and abuse. Avoiding hazards such as forced labour, trafficking or child marriage is harder for a child who has nowhere to be.

It was against this backdrop that Theirworld’s A World At School initiative and education expert Kevin Watkins published a report called Education Without Borders. The report called for the adoption of the innovative solution of ‘double-shift schools’ in Lebanon. In a double-shift school, local children can attend during one part of the day, with refugee children getting their schooling in the next ‘shift’.


displaced children have been helped into education thanks to Theirworld’s campaigning

The proposal would require public schools to adapt their existing operations to be able to accommodate the double-shift structure.  Theirworld campaigned for donor countries to help fund the plan, eventually raising millions of dollars.

The solution was backed by UN agencies and taken forward by the Lebanese Ministry of Education. Today it forms a central pillar of the Lebanese government’s Reaching All Children with Education (RACE) national strategy.

It means Theirworld’s campaigning has contributed to more than 300,000 displaced children receiving an education in Lebanon. Today we continue to help by providing support for the delivery of refugee education in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and local partners.

The impact of double-shift schools went far beyond the project itself, though; it acted as a springboard for a campaign for a dedicated fund aimed at helping children who find themselves in emergency situations to get access to education.

Theirworld was central to the campaign, and the need was clear: despite the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, funding for education in the poorest and most volatile settings was actually decreasing. In 2015 less than 2% of humanitarian aid relief went to education.


The Education Cannot Wait fund, which was created after the success of Lebanon’s Double-Shift Schools, has helped more than 4.5m children in crisis situations receive an education.

Ensuring education in emergencies

The Safe Schools petition, backed by more than 60 charities, gathered over 250,000 signatures and was delivered by youth activists to the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2016. It demanded action to ensure young people caught up in emergencies get the same access to education as children in other countries.

It was at this summit that the Education Cannot Wait fund was launched by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF with its partners, including the UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and world governments.

The Global Business Coalition for Education committed to securing $100m from the private sector, and announced plans to work with business to devise further innovative ways to ensure children in emergency situations don’t go uneducated.

The first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies, as of the end of 2021 Education Cannot Wait had reached more than 4.5m children, over one third of whom were in the primary and pre-primary age group. 21 donors have helped over $800m worth of resources to be unlocked to help children and teachers around the world.

Theirworld’s presence in Lebanon, meanwhile, continues to this day. We’ve helped 200+ teachers use technology to reach more than 5,000 refugee children as part of the Tech-Hub project in partnership with Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT). MyBest Start, a partnership between Theirworld, Alfanar, Ana Aqra and Lebanese Alternative Learning, provides learning and resources to 4,000 pre-primary aged children, 50 teachers and 1,000 parents.

Our partnership with Beirut-based SKILD aims to support overlooked children with special educational needs, using video content delivered online and to the 3m viewers of MTV Lebanon. And in 2020 we partnered with Edinburgh Business school, in the Scottish capital’s Heriot-Watt university, to offer 20 MBA scholarships to refugees in Lebanon and Lebanese nationals.

Theirworld believes every child, no matter their situation, deserves a safe place to learn. A quality education provides the best way to build a life free from poverty, exploitation and violence.

We’re proud to be continuously developing innovative solutions to help children into education – and overcoming barriers to keep them there.

A double shift kindergarten class in Lebanon.

Give children a safe place to learn

Every child deserves a safe place to learn, especially refugees and children affected by emergencies and conflict. Even before Covid-19, there were more than 260 million children and youth around the world who didn’t go to school and at least 75 million will have their education interrupted this year due to conflict and emergencies – including natural disasters.

If you want to ensure every child has a safe place to learn, add your name.

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