Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, school systems across Lebanon were already weak, with an out-of-school rate for primary education at 11%, and only 52% of these children continuing into secondary school. Education is highly privatised across the country, with fewer than a third of school-aged children – often children from the poorest families and refugees – enrolled in public schools. Public schools in Lebanon suffer from under-qualified teaching staff, and an inadequate learning environment and equipment, so that schooling for the poorest children is insufficient.
The weak public school system was not equipped to handle the influx of refugees from Syria and into the country. There are more than 660,000 school-age Syrian refugees in Lebanon. More than half of these children are out of school: 69% of 6–14-year-olds and 22% of 15–17-year-olds are enrolled in school.
Refugee children are often out of school because of extreme poverty, inability to afford transport costs, lack of remedial classes, bullying and discrimination. Unofficial figures estimate around 18,000 young Syrian refugees are engaged in child labour, preventing them from accessing education. The child marriage rate among Syrian refugees is officially 6% – though this figure is thought to be a significant underestimate as many cases are unregistered in Lebanese Courts.
To attempt to combat these problems, the government of Lebanon is enrolling refugees in public schools using a two-shift system, with an afternoon shift specifically for refugee and non-Lebanese children. However, the economic crisis and the public protest that has gripped the country since October 2019 have added to the problem, with children previously enrolled in private schools being moved to the state system, increasing the burden on state schools. This could result in refugees being moved to a later shift, or see them drop out altogether.
Schools were closed nationwide in early March 2020 in response to COVID-19, affecting more than 1,360,000 learners. Schools will remain closed until the end of the academic year, with official exams cancelled. Schoolchildren across the country had already lost two months of this school year in October and November 2019 due to nation-wide protests, meaning that they have lost over half of their school year.
The Lebanese government has developed an online curriculum to allow for distance learning - however, a Save the Children study found that all children surveyed reported difficulties in studying online, and children who do not have internet access are missing out on their education. Further, it has been reported that online distance learning has not been made available to refugee children, who as a result will be left behind.
As the pandemic hits families' finances, it is possible that many children will not return to school and that families will turn to child marriage and child labour to try and ease their economic difficulties.
Save the Children is responding to this disruption in education by providing learning activities with pre-school children, school-attending students, and out of school children. This includes distributing remote-learning kits and training teachers and staff members on remote-teaching practices to ensure some form of learning for children during this period. We have also established WhatsApp groups for caregivers and students to get regular messages and tips on home-schooling.
Back to the Save Our Education report