Ready to get back to school

After missing out on years of learning, UNICEF prepares children to enter education

Simon Balsom
UK government regional Arabic spokesperson Alyson King and BLN sudents in a group photo.
UNICEFLebanon/2019 Fouad Choufany

14 May 2019

For a large number of children in Lebanon today, and predominantly amongst the refugee population, the opportunity for a consistent education has long appeared nothing more than a vague hope. Many of these children lack the most basic learning skills. For those aged between 10 and 14 and unable to read and write, UNICEF, with funds from the UK Government, has engaged with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and local NGOs to create a basic literacy and numeracy (BLN) programme to provide targeted children with opportunity to enter formal education.

Thanks to this partnership, after missing out on many years of education, the refugee children are now able to get back to school and even, in some cases, attend school for the first time.

At the Bekaa-located centre of the Lebanese Organization for Studies and Training (LOST) in Bednayel, the day’s schedule is well under way when we arrive. With a focus on English and Arabic language reading and writing, in addition to numeracy and life skills, the BLN programme’s success is built upon its merging of play activities with learning activities.

 

For those aged between 10 and 14 and unable to read and write, UNICEF, with funds from the UK Government, has engaged with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and local NGOs to create a basic literacy and numeracy (BLN) programme to provide targeted children with opportunity to enter formal education.

 

Youssef, 13 years old Syrian refugee. BLN student at LOST. "I want to be a Lawyer in the future to defened all the people in need"
UNICEFLebanon/2019 Fouad Choufany

For all the children, inclusion in this programme inspires life-changing events.

After missing out on 9 full years of education, 13-year-old Youssef is attending class and learning to read and write for the first time.

“Before I came to the center,” he recalls, “I didn’t know how to read or write. I only knew the letters A and B, and could just count up to 10. Now, I’ve learned many things in this centre, and I know the alphabet. I’ve learned maths, French, Arabic, and life skills – I’ve learned how to build good relationships with other people.

“I love school because here I can learn new things and I can develop myself,” he adds, before continuing in hope, “so when I grow up, I can become a lawyer and defend innocent people.”

Hazem, 11 years old Syrian refugee. BLN student at LOST. Wants to be a mechanic in the future.  “Whenever I’m not helping my family at the tent, I’m happy to go to school”
UNICEFLebanon/2019 Fouad Choufany

"I’m here I’m learning gradually, and I’m happy. I understood the importance of education before I came here, but now it is even clearer to me." 11-year-old Hazem

Slightly younger, but no less challenged in his educational career, is 11-year-old Hazem. Originally from Raqqa and not knowing where his father is, he arrived in Lebanon four years ago with his mother and seven siblings. He went to school in his homeland for only ten days.

Now rerolled in the BLN programme, he recounts his story: “I’ve been to three schools here, but never anything consistent. Each time I went to a school, they discovered I knew nothing… so I kept dropping out to take on paid work. I picked crops in the fields because there was nothing else I could do. But, always, I knew in my heart I wanted to learn, I wanted to find a place at a school that was right for me. I learned about this programme when an outreach worker visited my home. Now that I’m here I’m learning gradually, and I’m happy. I understood the importance of education before I came here, but now it is even clearer to me. When I worked, I only earned around $100 a month, and that amount of money goes in no time. If I focus on education, I will be able to earn more”.

 

UK government regional Arabic spokesperson Alyson King meeting with BLN students at LOST - Bednyil
UNICEFLebanon/2019 Fouad Choufany

Alyson King, a UK Government Regional Arabic Spokesperson, during her visit to Lebanon in March 2019, said following her visit to the LOST centre, “It’s great to be here to hear and see first-hand how UK Aid is supporting the most vulnerable children. It’s heart-warming to hear the positive impact this programme has had on students’ lives and how it has changed them for the better”.

With UNICEF, the UK has supported the provision of non-formal education to over 70,000 boys and girls so far and continues to provide psychosocial support and gender-based violence services to 116,000 of the most disadvantaged boys, girls, and women in Lebanon. The UK has committed up to £165 million to support education in Lebanon from 2016-2021.