First day back at school for 130,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies

Mohammed Ahmad Al Suleiman is excited to be at school

The beaming smiles told their own story. Syrian refugee children marching excitedly into school – many for the first time in more than four years.

Today was the first day of a new school year for 130,000 Syrian students living in Lebanon. Their families fled for their lives from the terrible conflict but these children just want to be normal and have an education.

Like Mohammed Ahmad Al Suleiman, who is going to school for the first time thanks to the innovative double-shift system pioneered by A World at School and adopted by the Lebanese government.

Amania said she enjoyed going back to school

The system works. It is cost-effective and reasonably easy to implement – and it could be expanded to include the one million Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

Seven-year-old Mohammed said: “I’m excited about starting school because I would love to study. The school looks nice. My dad is taking me on the first morning. He says I’m really good with numbers.”

His sisters Fatima and Amani had previously returned to education after the double-shift system helped 100,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon get schooling in the 2014-15 academic year.

Fatima was upset at spending a year out of school

Amania, 10, said: “I enjoyed going back to school. I was so happy because I will be able to learn. And when I can learn I will understand everything.”

Fatima, 14, added: “I spent a year out of school. I felt upset and sad and nervous about missing out on learning. When I went back I was really excited and really happy. I was desperate to have any pen or pencil and paper to write on.”

Their father Ahmad is a great believer in education. In Syria the family were well off, the children were in private schools and even had private tutors.

When they fled from the fighting to Lebanon, Ahmad couldn’t afford to put his seven children in private schools and there was a shortage of places in government schools – so he spent a year worrying about them missing out on education.

His passion for his children to learn and fulfil their dreams is reflected in the ambitions of his children. Fatima wants to be a journalist, Amani a doctor and Mohammed an engineer. 

They are all back in school. Sadly, another 300,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon alone are not – and more needs to be done to help them. 

Heba ran with delighted when she heard she was going to school

This week the world leaders meeting at the United Nations General Assembly have the opportunity to step up and meet this need through funding commitments to education.

One way is to back the plan of action to get one million Syrian children into school in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

Three detailed reports – one for each country, which all border Syria – were published on September 10. They warned that a lack of donor funding is leaving vulnerable children out of classrooms and at risk of child labour, early marriage, exploitation and extremism.

The three reports and an executive summary – produced by the charity Theirworld in conjunction with A World at School and the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) – were written after consultation with the governments of Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Iman dropped out of school to look after her siblings

One of those helped already by the double-shift system is 14-year-old Heba Ziyad Sheikh Mohammed. She missed out on eight months of education when her family fled to Lebanon from their home town of Daraa after their neighbours were killed in a bombing.

She went to an informal education centre for a year until the introduction of the double shift system helped her get into a public school.

Heba said: “We couldn’t believe it. We started shouting in the house and running round and round my mum.

“The first day back I was so happy to know I would be in this school. I’m excited about the new term. I want to finish year six and go into year seven.”

Abir is going back to school after three years

Others have not been as fortunate. Iman Al Ali, 11, has not been in school for five months. She had to drop out to take care of her five younger siblings while her parents work in the fields near a refugee camp in the Bekka Valley.

She said: “I want to be a teacher when I grow up, because I want to teach children. Just as I want to learn, I know that when I grow up, there will be children who want to learn too.”

Ten-year-old Abir Dashir Al Taleb has been out of formal education for three years but attended a camp education centre in Bekka Valley.

She said: ““I went to school for a while in Lebanon but I don’t go anymore. Now I help my mum at home and sometimes I do the washing up and my sisters clean the floor and play with the baby. We jump rope and make play houses but I miss learning and I miss my friends.”

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