Bou Saab, Belhaj, Swayne launch plan for increasing enrolment of displaced persons at schools

July 29, 2015 (REFERRING TO THE NATIONAL NEWS AGENCY – LEBANON) Education and Higher Learning Minister Elias Bou Saab, UK Minister of State for International Development Desmond Swayne and World Bank Regional Director Farid Belhaj on Wednesday held a press conference to launch a plan for increasing the enrolment of displaced Syrians in schools.

Bou Saab gave the following statement:

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education has worked with the international community, UN agencies as well as international donors to develop the strategy we call Reaching All Children with Education (RACE). Through this initiative, we have committed to support all the children and youth displaced from Syria and Iraq.

Despite various setbacks, during the last academic year we opened all MEHE public schools (250 secondary public and 1,000 basic public schools) to non-Lebanese students. By using many of the buildings in double shifts, we were able to provide 104,000 Syrian refugee children with schooling.

School year 2015/2016, we are aiming to double the number of Syrian children in our public schools to 200,000 students subject to the funding we receive. Since this is a huge endeavour, we have commissioned a number of studies to help us craft a scaled-up enrollment strategy for September 2015, and installed a program management team in the ministry whose sole responsibility is to make sure that we can reach this goal.

The biggest constraint we had in providing education to Syrian children last year was the lack of resources especially the financial. MEHE plan this year is to show the world that the planning, policies, and systems are in place months before the start of the school year – ready to be scaled up if the financing can be provided.

Unfortunately, however, the price tag for providing children with an education is just one part of the total cost of this effort. Some Syrian children will need psycho-social and health support to cope with the unimaginable distress suffered because of the war. Transportation will need to be found and funded. And finally – and importantly for MEHE- the program will have to be designed in a way that ensures that Lebanese parents don’t feel compelled to pull their children out of public school and incur debts by educating them privately.

Each of these challenges will cost money, which is why we hope that, as we approach the beginning of the school year in September, the international community will urgently increase its financial support to Lebanon. With no end in sight to the crisis in Syria, it is likely that we will need to provide these children with education for years to come. So I call on donors to make multi-year commitments that enable us to ensure the students are able to complete their schooling.