UNICEF’s non-formal education programme: equipping children in Lebanon with the skills to succeed
In Lebanon, UNICEF-supported non-formal education programmes are ushering a generation of children back to class and delivering learning, life skills as well as other, sometimes unexpected, benefits
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On any given school day, over 1 billion children around the world head to class. Yet, for many other children, the door to education remains firmly shut. Alongside formal schooling, non-formal education programmes (NFE) can prove to be crucial to attend to children who are unable to access mainstream systems. In Lebanon, UNICEF-supported NFE programmes are ushering a generation of children back to class, delivering learning, life skills and other, sometimes unexpected, benefits.
Ten-year-old Jinan was born amid Syria’s ongoing civil conflict. A few months old, she lost her eye right in an explosion. Today a refugee living on the outskirts of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, through a UNICEF-supported NFE programme partner Naba’a, she’s receiving her first experiences in education and has been provided with her first ocular prosthesis.
“These are the best things that have ever happened to me,” Jinan smiles, wiping a tear from below her new prosthetic. “It’s still uncomfortable”, she laughs, “and is taking some getting used to”.
Their effects are proving to be profound. “My daughter’s confidence is now sky-high,” reports mother Amouna. “And since Jinan enrolled in UNICEF’s adapted basic literacy and numeracy (ABLN) programme at the beginning of March, she’s been transformed”.
While Jinan was a student in an earlier non-formal education programme between the ages of five and seven, since then, and for the last three years, she has been out of learning. As such, most of what she’d previously learned, she’d forgotten.
In July 2019, UNICEF started to implement an adapted BLN (ABLN) programme that targets Lebanese as well as non-Lebanese children in the same age group of 10-14 years old but who come from the most marginalized pockets and suffer from multiple deprivations, including child labour, child marriage and disabilities. These children not able to follow the regular BLN and therefore remained out of learning. Since the start of 2020, all UNICEF partners implementing BLN have provided ABLN to cater to these children’s needs.
Courses currently continue to be held online through distance learning. While conceding it is not an ideal situation, teacher Huda Kanaan comments on Jinan’s rapid progress. “She’s a fine student and very dedicated,” is the feedback. “She’s embraced this opportunity to restart her education with all her energy. She’s the perfect example which shows it’s never too late to learn”.
Shortly after taking her place on the governments of the Netherlands, Finland and Australia funded programme, her vision impairment came to the attention of UNICEF and its partner.
A referral to a medical partner was enough to secure an appointment with a specialist and the swift provision of the prosthetic as part of UNICEF’s inclusion programme funded by the governments of Canada and France.
“There is no way we could ever have afforded to pay for this ourselves,” acknowledges Amouna, “and without it, Jinan would forever have lived with the stigma of only having one eye. The prosthetic now convincingly conceals this. We couldn’t be happier”.
Jinan speaks quickly and confidently. “I want to continue my education and to learn to speak English. I want to be a teacher. I want to help other children,” she says.
Provided with a tablet to download her lessons, she studies two days a week and revises on Thursday.
With all the innocence of a ten-year-old yet the wisdom of greater age, Jinan announces that “Education is valuable – it’s the key to a better future,” before adding that “education is the light; illiteracy is darkness.”
It is time for a world where all children enter school equipped with the skills they need to succeed.
Today in Lebanon, UNICEF, supported by local partners and funded the governments of the Netherlands, Finland and Australia, ensures that the youngest generation of vulnerable refugees can get their foot on the ladder of lifelong learning.