Education can bridge divides with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, shows new report

Photo: Adam Patterson/Panos/DFID (Creative Commons BY 2.0)

Education has great potential to improve relations between Syrian refugees and their Lebanese hosts, according to a new report from International Alert.

The research explores how formal and non-formal education can improve children’s perceptions and interactions with one another. It was produced as part of our Change in Exile project implemented with our partner Roskilde University in Denmark, with funding from the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme.

Our Lead Researcher for the project Lana Khattab held interviews and discussions with Lebanese and Syrian children and parents in two parts of Lebanon: the eastern suburbs of Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli.

The problems of the double-shift system

The findings reveal children in single nationality classes treat those from different nationalities with more negativity and suspicion when compared to children who attend mixed classes or mixed extracurricular activities.

A double-shift system, which splits up morning and afternoon sessions, was put in place to allow Lebanese schools to enrol Syrian refugee children. Close to 200,000 Syrian children attend classes in public schools across Lebanon, most of them in the afternoon shift created for non-Lebanese children.

Our research found that overburdened teachers, who haven’t been fully trained to deal with traumatised children, struggle to set a positive atmosphere in the classroom. Teachers and staff in public schools still use corporal punishment and many Syrian parents and children do not feel comfortable complaining about this.

The lack of recreational activities on offer in the afternoon shift also adds to the challenges facing non-Lebanese students, whose intensive curriculum does not allow them to exercise, play and make friends with other pupils.

The benefits of mixed classes

While formal education provides limited space for children to learn about their rights and diversity, civil society organisations offer children non-formal education, often in mixed Lebanese-Syrian groups.

As part of such activities children can play sports, get support with their homework, learn languages and develop key skills such as problem solving, communication and conflict resolution. Our research shows that extracurricular activities in mixed nationality groups lead children to hold more positive perceptions of one another and make friends across community divides.

However children refer to such activities as detached from their everyday life, which points to the growing need to address social stability within schools.

Combining formal and non-formal education

The below infographic illustrates the different kinds of formal and non-formal education on offer in Lebanon. As the research suggests, these different activities can complement each other and both play a role in responding to the needs of children, laying the foundations for more peaceful communities.

The research findings were presented at a conference held in Beirut earlier this year (video below), where experts gathered to explore how education can support peace and stability in Lebanon.

> Read the report in Arabic.
> Find out more about Change in Exile.