UNICEF Lebanon ensures equal access to quality education

How UNICEF Palestinian Programme works towards guaranteeing that education is brought within reach of every child-regardless of nationality, financial or social status.

Simon Balsom
Children sitting in class participating in a coloring activity.
UNICEFLebanon/2019 Ramzy Haidar

29 May 2019

Education is not only a fundamental human right, but also a ray of hope for young children living in Burj Barajneh Palestinian camp, home to Beirut's largest population of Palestinian refugees.

The room in Fraternity Center is filled with children shouting their promise and commitment, hoping and dreaming of a better future.

With six classes, each enrolling twenty bright and eager under-5s, the centre is the educational heart of the camp and, through its generous donors - the EU, Norway, Denmark, Kuwait, and in partnership with UNICEF Lebanon - provides free kindergarten places for three-to-five-year-old children. Attending five days a week, and four hours a day, these children are receiving the very best start to their educational life.

“Investment into education remains crucial to giving children hope for a better future." Nazih Yacoub – Palestinian Programme Specialist

Retention rates are incredibly high. As a class of four-year-olds recites the Arabic alphabet. At 20 per class, each child receives the attention of the teacher they deserve. It is clear now, as they switch to reciting the English alphabet, that they are learning at an extraordinary rate.

With Arabic and English being taught, as well as creative exercises that hone the young ones' fine-motor skills, the centre also hosts pupils with disabilities. Teacher Mariam explains, "We have children with various difficulties including autism and reduced mobility. With a specially adapted classroom - and appropriate activities within – our teachers are trained to work on special needs and, when necessary, a speech therapist comes too".

“Investment into education remains crucial to giving children hope for a better future," Nazih Yacoub – Palestinian Programme Specialist said, “We all need to remind ourselves to put the most vulnerable children at the core of everything we do. Every effort should be made to alleviate some of the real burdens facing children and families in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon.”

Education for older children is also a key focus, with remedial classes for children from 6 to 16. Taking place on an upper floor, these classes, also five days a week, help support young children whose right to education is under threat. After three-hours of assisted study and recreational activities in the centre, most of them travel to nearby schools as part of the UNICEF / Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s ‘Second-Shift’ programme at public schools.

For two sisters, the opportunity to access remedial classes within the confines of their neighbourhood means a second chance at gaining an education.

"I've already had a marriage proposal, But I knew that once married I wouldn't be able to continue my schooling; and I knew how wrong that would be." 16-year-old Batool.

16-year-old Batool takes up her own story; “I missed two years of schooling, but have been coming here for six years now. It’s given me the support I needed, and I’ve learned to speak English now too. My family couldn’t afford to send me to a private school, so this was my only opportunity to learn – and I love it here. More than just learn academically though, we learn other skills too”, she smiles and, a little later, we learn how these skills gave her future a positive direction. 

Her sister, Jihane, is 14. “I come here five days a week, every morning. Then I go to school for another four hours. It’s a long day, but it’s worth it. I want to study hard and then become a teacher so I can help other girls just like me”.

"I've already had a marriage proposal", Batool reports and, in a clear sign of what she's learned here through life skills knowledge, and with her confidence boosted through consistent education, adds: "But I knew that once married I wouldn't be able to continue my schooling; and I knew how wrong that would be". Her parents supported her decision, perhaps a choice that no 16-year-old should be placed to make.

Teacher Mariam; "We work with parents as well – to teach them how to work with their children positively. They come to the centre, and we have a space dedicated for this purpose".

Well-natured, well-mannered, well-behaved, and with the bright-eyed optimism of children everywhere, the entire center gives of their best.

Education is not just good for children and youth, it is good for nations. Through UNICEF Lebanon and the continuing generosity of donors, Batool, Jihane and her friends are able to maintain their hope for a brighter future, a future where education is a ladder to success and dreams coming true.

Through generous funding by international donors, in this case the Governments of Finland, Denmark, Norway, South Korea, Canada, and Kuwait, the UNICEF Palestinian Programme in Lebanon works towards guaranteeing education is brought within reach of every child - regardless of nationality, financial or social status - removing from families a significant and often insuperable obstacle to ensuring quality education for their children.