This Op-ed is part of Towards an Inclusive Education for Refugees: A Comparative Longitudinal Study funded by the Spencer Foundation
Amid a worsening economic crisis and a global pandemic, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) decided to reopen all Lebanese schools on April 21 following a three-month-long closure. Although the vaccination process is still in its early stages, the Minister of Education intended to reopen all schools and save the academic year despite all health warnings.
According to the Minister of Education: “The harsh economic conditions have affected everyone. Therefore, we must cooperate to save the academic year. We have nothing left in Lebanon but education, and our goal as a ministry is to save this academic year.”
The ministry’s decision was met with a vast public objection. Teachers expressed their fear of infection. Similarly, parents voiced their inability to cover their children’s tuition and transportation fees, their struggle to fill their cars with fuel due to the recent fuel crisis, and their inability to give their children a daily allowance for school breakfast (Houssari, 2021).
Despite all those challenges, the ministry also announced that official exams for Grade 9 and 12 will take place starting July 12. Although under similar circumstances last year, the Lebanese cabinet agreed to cancel official exams giving all students automatic promotion to the next level based on their school certificates. Therefore, the persistence to conduct this year’s official exams under dire academic, economic, and public health conditions urges us to question the quality of education offered to grade 9 and grade 12 students and assess their readiness to sit for this year’s official exam.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Centre for Lebanese Studies interviewing 311 official exam students (135 grade 9 students and 176 grade 12 students), 63% of students enrolled in private schools indicate that the quality of education became worse during the COVID-19 lockdown. These figures increase significantly in public schools where 83% of students enrolled in the morning shift indicate that the quality became worse during the lockdown, and 93% of refugee students enrolled in the afternoon shift indicate the same.
The poor education quality stems from a decrease in teaching days and hours, teachers’ limited experience with distance teaching strategies and technology, teachers’ difficulty preparing distance learning lessons, and difficulty meeting teaching objectives (Hammoud and Shuayab, 2021).
The deterioration in the quality of education was to a great extent reflected in the worsening schooling performance of students, whereby 65% of official exam students enrolled in private schools reported that their schooling performance has become worse during the lockdown compared to before the COVID-19 crisis. These figures increased significantly in public schools where 83% of official exam students enrolled in the afternoon shift indicated that their schooling performance has become worse during the lockdown, and 81% of official exam refugee students enrolled in the morning shift indicated the same.
The poor quality of education during the COVID-19 pandemic and worsening school performance negatively affected the readiness of official exam students (Hammoud and Shuayab, 2021). For instance, 44% of students enrolled in private schools reported that they are not ready to take the official exam this year. Similarly, 56% of students enrolled in public schools’ morning shifts reported that they are not ready to take the official exam this year. Although refugee students in public schools’ afternoon shifts are suffering from the worst education quality, only 26% of refugee students reported that they are not ready to take the official exam this year.
The study also shows that most students voiced their unpreparedness for official exams by favoring automatic promotion to the next grade, whereby 75% of students attending private schools reported that they favor automatic promotion to the next grade. Similarly, 63% of students enrolled in public school’s morning shift and afternoon shift reported that they are in favor of automatic promotion to the next grade.
Out of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon, only 879,529 are officially registered with UNHCR. However, the majority (78%) of those registered did not have a legal residency permit in 2019 (VASyR, 2019). Many struggle to obtain a legal residency permit due to its hefty renewal cost. Knowing that the average monthly income of a Syrian refugee household is 400,000 LBP while a permit renewal costs around 450,000 LBP per person per year and 900,000 LBP if a refugee resides in Lebanon for more than two months without obtaining one.
Nevertheless, Lebanese regulations mandate that refugee students sitting for 9th and 12th-grade official exams must have either a residency permit or a stamped, valid passport (Shuayb, 2021). Therefore, besides limited access and poor quality of education during COVID-19, refugees who have official exams are faced with additional bureaucratic barriers that restrict their ability to sit for official exams. According to CLS’s survey findings, this regulation is preventing 53% of Syrian refugee students and 33% of Palestinian refugee students from sitting for the official exam this year (Hammoud and Shuayab, 2021)
Despite all international aid and donor funding, the system keeps on excluding the most vulnerable groups. The crisis has exposed the fragility of the Lebanese educational sector and its inability to provide equal access to quality education during crises. The poor educational quality worsened students’ educational performance, besides the lack of readiness among official exam students indicates that many students are prone to fail. Therefore, The Ministry of Education should focus on saving students’ educational future rather than obsessing over saving the academic year. Finally, during emerging crises, the fate of official exam students should be determined by an adaptive examination plan rather than a rigid examination plan based on an outdated curriculum.
Shuayb, M., (20201). Lebanon: “Ahmed Will Not be Part of the One Percent.” Centre for Lebanese Studies. https://daraj.com/en/68496/?fbclid=IwAR1U5cFI99c5uRVs3sjuvZzt2RisVl7p7eJx_CkRV83iWb_02PeQcDGrZaA
Hammoud, M., & Shuayb, M., (2021). The Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on Access and Quality of Education: Reflections from Students and Teachers in Lebanon. Centre for Lebanese Studies.https://lebanesestudies.com/the-impact-of-covid-19-lockdown-on-access-quality-of-education-reflections-from-students-teachers-in-lebanon/
Houssari, N., (2021). Lebanon schools to reopen in cooperation with the Red Cross. Arab News. https://arab.news/ctea7
UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP. 2019. ‘Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon.’ http://ialebanon.unhcr.org/vasyr/#/