UNICEF-supported summer camps helping Syrian and Lebanese children integrate into public schools

The summer camps are part of UNICEF Lebanon’s emergency response to the influx of over 25,000 refugees from neighbouring Syria. It is estimated that 50 per cent of the refugees are children.

Silje Vik Pedersen
Children in classroom.
Kate Brooks
06 July 2012

“I was here at seven this morning because I did not want to be late for class,” said 8-year-old Razan*, looking up from her drawing book. “Here we get to read stories and learn new words, and sing and dance.”

Razan is one of 84 Syrian and Lebanese children between ages 6 and 12 who are attending the summer camp at Bar Elias Official Public School in the Bekaa Valley. It is one of 10 summer day camps held by UNICEF’s implementing partner Iqraa in the Bekaa valley and northern Lebanon. Over 400 children are participating in the five-week program.

Laughter could be heard from one of the classrooms at Bar Elias. The classroom was decorated with colourful papers and English words. The children were gathered in a circle and were mimicking their teacher’s dance moves as they sang an English song.

“Working in the summer camp is a new experience for me,” said Rania*, one of the English teachers. She has been working as a teacher for more than 11 years and normally teaches second grade with over 30 students in each class. “We only have 14 students in the day camp classes so I can work closer with the students and help them with their reading and writing. The learning material is also better, and I want to continue to use the same teaching techniques when I return back to my normal class after summer,” Rania said.


Education in emergencies

The summer camps are part of UNICEF Lebanon’s emergency response to the influx of over 25,000 refugees from neighbouring Syria. It is estimated that 50 per cent of the refugees are children; most of them are not enrolled in school due to late arrival, security fears and language barriers.

Syrian students typically do not learn a second language in elementary school, so many refugee children have difficulty integrating into the Lebanese elementary schools where English or French is used to teach mathematics and sciences. Underprivileged Lebanese children living in these areas also face the same challenge; many of these children are at risk of dropping out of school because they are unable to read Arabic or English or French. The summer day camps are therefore meant to prepare the both Syrian and Lebanese children for the following school year and to encourage the newcomers to enrol in school.

Rania and 31 other teachers have been trained by Iqraa in a balanced literacy approach, in which the teachers learn to support each child to become a better reader and writer based on the child’s skills level. “In the beginning I was very sceptical and I was telling my husband that I did not think this way of teaching would work,” said Amira*, another English teacher. “But now I see that the children are really engaged and eager to learn, and they are responding 10 times faster than with my old way of teaching.”

UNICEF’s long experience in disasters and conflict has demonstrated that returning children to school as quickly as possible is one of the most valuable emergency interventions that can take place. Schools provide children with a sense of normalcy that is crucial to the psychological well-being of children under psychological stress. Many of the Syrian refugee children witnessed violence and continue to experience fear. It is therefore important that they be integrated into the Lebanese public schools system; the summer day camp programme will prepare them for this.

Children in classroom.
Kate Brooks

Parental involvement

The summer day camps are not just meant to engage the children. It is equally important to engage the parents and caregivers. Some Syrian parents consider their presence in Lebanon a temporary measure and have therefore not enrolled their children in school.

“Keeping the parents updated on the progress of their children gives them a sense of involvement as they are able to share the joy of their children when they have succeeded with their reading or writing,” said Amina. “We see that the parents are really enjoying being part of the meetings and that they are eager to discuss with each other their children’s enthusiasm for getting up in the morning and for reading books at home. Many parents also ask the teachers what they have done to the children to change them in such a short period of time.”

The summer camp is over for today and the children are playing ball while waiting for the bus that will take them home. “I learned a new word today,” said 6-year-old Mona. “I made a new friend,” said Rami, 7. “I can’t wait for the classes tomorrow,” said 8-year-old Huda. “Then we will learn the letter ‘e’.” The children then run off to the bus, eager to come back again tomorrow to learn more. *Names have been changed to protect identities.