The number of Syrian refugee children enrolled in public schools in Lebanon has risen by 152 percent over the last three academic years, a UN report said.
The increase is due to campaigns of the Lebanese government and outreach efforts made by international partners, according to the report of the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Dubbed “UNHCR Lebanon: Back to School,” the report showed that 157,984 refugee children, from Kindergarten to grade nine, were enrolled in formal public education in the country in January 2016 up from 106,735 a year earlier and 62,664 in 2013-2014.
In 2012, the Lebanese Ministry of Education opened the doors of public schools to Syrian refugee students, giving them a chance for education that they would otherwise have been denied.
Under the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, a joint Lebanese government-UN initiative, about 267 million U.S. dollars were received for the sector in 2015, up from 98.8 million dollars in 2014.
According to the UNHCR, Lebanon hosts more than 1.1 million Syrians who fled their war-torn country since the uprising against the government of President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011.
The UNHCR estimates that half of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are women and children.
Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon Miss Out on Secondary Education
However, the older youth refugees didn’t have the same chance as many of them had to leave education.
At the beginning of the school year, 82,744 Syrians of secondary school age were registered with the United Nations refugee agency in Lebanon, but only 2,280 non-Lebanese students were enrolled in public secondary schools as of March – less than 3 percent of the total. By comparison, 150,000 non-Lebanese children enrolled in public basic education this year.
Lebanon has taken some steps to ease restrictions on secondary school enrollment for Syrian children. In March, the Education Ministry stopped requiring Syrians to present transcripts to take the Brevet exam, which is required for admission to secondary schools. And a UNESCO program now covers secondary school enrollment fees for non-Lebanese students.
When students sit this week for the baccalaureate exams that mark the end of high school in Lebanon, Amin, 18, won’t be among them. He has been out of school since fleeing to Lebanon as a refugee from Syria. “I’ve been here five years and lost five years of my life,” he said.
Amin’s brother Anas, 16, dropped out after he wasn’t able to enroll in grade nine. School officials told him that he would have to pay for transportation to a school more than an hour away. But there was an even bigger obstacle: “We couldn’t go because there are checkpoints and they might arrest us,” said Anas, who hasn’t been able to maintain legal residency in Lebanon. Now, both brothers work in construction.
Despite the Education Ministry’s efforts to improve enrollment, Syrian families told me that secondary-aged children face particular barriers – documentation requirements, classes taught entirely in unfamiliar English or French, greater distances to schools, and pressure to work to support their families.
One major barrier that Lebanon could easily change is its residency policy, which requires Syrians, the vast majority of whom are impoverished or indebted, to pay $200 per year for every person aged 15 or older. Children turning 15 face particular challenges to renewal, because many do not possess the required passport or individual identification card. Humanitarian organizations estimate that two-thirds of refugees have lost their legal status as a result and are vulnerable to arrest at checkpoints on the way to school.
Unless the Lebanese government, international donors, and humanitarian agencies address the broader obstacles preventing children from continuing their education, most Syrian children will never reach secondary school.