syrian children lebanon refugee camp Icare/ZumaPress

Educating Syria’s Refugee Children

Lebanon aims to enroll 200,000 Syrian refugee children into its public education system during the coming school year, but it cannot do it alone. Without additional support from the international community, the project will not be realized – despite strong political will and rigorous planning.

BEIRUT – When I took charge of Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education in February 2014, I was presented with two huge challenges. In addition to improving the management and quality of Lebanon’s public education system, I had to determine how to handle the unprecedented influx of refugees from Syria – around half a million of them children.

One possibility would have been to focus solely on providing education to Lebanese children – thereby upholding our country’s long-held status as an important intellectual center in the Middle East – and to outsource the refugee problem to the international community. After all, Lebanon has already done far more than many other countries, accepting well over a million Syrian refugees despite the intense pressure on the local population and economy.

Instead, I took the view that, as long as these children were on Lebanese soil, we have a responsibility to provide them with a quality education in a structured environment, so that when they can finally return to Syria, they will have the skills and knowledge with which to rebuild their country. The greater risk, I felt, would have been to leave these children sitting idle, losing their hopes and aspirations, or, worse, being forced into child labor or drawn in by radical ideologies.