E-learning brings hope to Syrian children

Friday 08/04/2016
Young Syrian refugees attend class at a public school in the Lebanese village of Zahle in the Bekaa valley.

Tripoli, Lebanon - “The aim is to salvage a whole generation of Syrian children from illiteracy and lack of education, which will have a detrimental effect on their future,” said Mazen Sharbak, head of the Association of Education and Learning, a Syrian non-governmen­tal organisation.
He was commenting on an ini­tiative under which an estimated 2 million displaced and refugee chil­dren will have electronic access to the Syrian education curriculum no matter where they are.
“As a result of the armed conflicts in Syria over the past five years, generations of Syrians are facing the biggest humanitarian calamity in this century,” Sharbak said. “The worst impact, however, is on the fu­ture of the young generation that is growing up without education and suffering bitterly to get some kind of learning.
“The project will help thousands of Syrian children to catch up on education after they have been deprived from it for several years due to war and the lack of space in schools (in host countries).”
The initiative dubbed No Syrian Child Left Behind is designed to ad­dress the loss of schooling as a re­sult of the conflict. It was launched March 24th by the Islamic Develop­ment Bank (IDB) in Tripoli in north­ern Lebanon, where a large number of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in the country are concen­trated.
“We have worked on two main as­pects of the project,” Sharbak said. “First, the design of a comprehen­sive educational programme, which we have placed on the internet, making it user-friendly and easily accessible to students. Second, we secured laptops and electronic tab­lets for the students, which they can use at home and in their tents with internet access.”
The next phase of the project in­cludes the establishment of internet centres equipped with computers and printers inside refugee camps and sites to facilitate access to e-learning.
“Despite the importance of this project, we do not want it as an al­ternative to schooling but it is a temporary arrangement imposed by the fact that most countries hosting Syrian refugees have limited educa­tional capacities and cannot absorb all Syrian students,” Sharbak said.
An estimated 300,000 Syrian chil­dren in Lebanon with no access to teachers and textbooks are expected to benefit from the $25 million pro­gramme, co-funded by IDB in col­laboration with Qatar Charity and the Syrian Scientific Society.
According to the Association of Education and Learning, which groups Syrian education specialists, there are 700,000 Syrian students in Lebanon but only 400,000 have ac­cess to Lebanese private and public schools, with the latter doing double shifts in the afternoon for Syrians only.
In many cases, children are de­prived from school because their parents cannot afford transporta­tion fees and because they have to work to help their families secure a basic livelihood. The e-learning pro­gramme is designed to reach these children, Sharbak noted.
The online curricula offer more than 2,600 lessons for the interme­diate and secondary classes, cover­ing subjects, including mathemat­ics, Arabic grammar, sciences and humanities following the official Syrian curricula. Topics related to the Syrian regime and the Ba’ath Party, which are taught in the official programme, have been removed.
In his address at the launch cer­emony, IDB President Ahmad Ali stressed that the programme is aimed at “addressing the effects of conflicts on children and mitigating the impacts that serious conflicts leave on development”.
“There is no way to share the desired prosperity, equality and re­spect for the rights of everyone as long as millions of Syrian refugee children are deprived of education,” he said.
Sharbak pointed out that part of the programme was designed to reach children who were cut off from any type of learning for the past five years.
“The ‘education rectification’ syl­labus targets students between (age) 6 and 17 who have totally missed out on education,” he said. “It is an intense and focused programme that sums up several classes to help them catch up and enable them to sit for official certificate exams rec­ognised locally and internationally. They will also be able to choose vo­cational training to prepare for mar­ket requirements.”
The initiative has raised hopes for many Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.
“I wish I could return to school. It has been two years now that I am not getting any education because there is no place for me in the school here,” said 10-year-old Adel Dar­wish, who lives in a refugee camp in northern Lebanon’s Dinnieh dis­trict.
“The other closest school is more than 4km away but my parents have no money to pay for the school bus, so I could not go there, either,” Adel added.
Ruba Dandashi, 9, has been with­out school for more than a year since her family moved from Tripoli to a rural area to the north. “The school here is far and I cannot go there on foot,” she said. “With the new programme, I will be able to learn at home until I go back to my real home in Syria.”