Head of ALECSO worried about refugee education

Friday 18/03/2016
Abdullah Hamad Muhareb, the head of the Arab League’s Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO).

Tunis - Millions of Arab chil­dren whose education was uprooted by war could be a lost gen­eration from which Islamic State-styled terrorist groups would recruit soldiers, the leader of the main pan-Arab education, sci­ence and culture body said.

“There are estimates putting the number of children out of schools at more than 14 million. These children could be a wellspring for terrorist or­ganisations,” Abdullah Hamad Mu­hareb, the head of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO), said in an interview.

Muhareb was elected ALECSO director-general in December 2012.

“The issue of children deprived of formal education worries us tre­mendously. We have hotbeds of violence in Syria, Libya and Yemen. These hotspots are leaving children out of school. We do worry that after four or five years a whole generation will be without education as it does not enroll in schools,” he said.

UN High Commissioner for Refu­gees (UNHCR) and other human rights groups said that refugee chil­dren enrolled in schools outside their home countries are struggling to adapt to the education systems of their host nations.

In Lebanon, the UNHCR said 51% of Syrian children refugees are un­der the age of 18 and the majority of children face problems accessing education systems.

“The biggest problem is the lan­guage,” says Save the Children in Lebanon. The Syrian school system is entirely run in Arabic; Lebanese schools teach maths and sciences in either English or French, which few Syrian refugees understand.

As a result, many Syrian children are being put in grades lower than the classes they attended in Syria. Adding to the hurdles faced by ref­ugees, the curriculum followed in Lebanon is different than the one in Syria, with some educational ex­perts deeming Lebanon’s more ad­vanced, making it difficult for refu­gee children to adjust.

In Germany, which is expecting to take in 1.5 million asylum seekers, the education body the Standing Conference estimates there will be more than 320,000 extra students throughout the country.

German psychotherapists say they find many students suffer­ing from mental health problems, which affects concentration and the ability to grasp what teachers say in the new scholastic environment.

The refugee crisis has driven a wedge between Germans who sup­port asylum seekers and those strongly against them, a rift that shows up in schoolyards and classes in some areas.

In Jordan, 38.6% of school-age children in the Zaatari camp do not attend any form of education de­spite informal services offered in Jordan’s biggest refugee camp.

Before the war, school attendance was 100% for male primary school children and 98% of female primary school children in Syria. At the sec­ondary school level, 67% of both male and female students attended school.

In Turkey, where more than 2 mil­lion Syrian refugees live, 400,000 of the children are not attending school, according to relief organi­sations and human rights groups. They cite language and economic hardship as main causes keeping refugees away of classrooms.

“We must find solutions to this is­sue, which is of great concern to us. There are countries who help in the education of the refugee children and deploy efforts and resources. These include Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which are building schools for refu­gees,” Muhareb said.

“We seek a solution that would be based upon a clear plan. We are moving in that direction as we plan a conference to bring people to­gether and think about a good solu­tion for that issue.” But he did not give a date or specific place for the planned gathering.

“We will arrange the meeting at a state close to the conflict area. We are in permanent contacts with Arab countries over their contribu­tions to rescue these children from being lost. These are 14 million chil­dren from Syria, Libya and Yemen out of school,” he added.

Turning to the issue of ancient Arab ruins destroyed or threatened by destruction by the Islamic State (ISIS), Muhareb said his organisa­tion had taken cue from Kuwait when it readied teams ahead of its liberation from Iraqi occupation in the 1990s.

“We want to borrow from the Kuwaiti approach by preparing ad­vance teams to visit Syria, Libya and Yemen to assess and repair damage to museums and historical ruins,” he said.

ISIS destroyed many archaeologi­cal sites, damaging many and loot­ing artefacts to finance its opera­tions.

“The poor education system in the Arab world made it easy for [ISIS] narrative to attract the re­gion’s youth. The quality of the education is inferior to what it was 30 years ago,” added Muhareb, who also deplored the poor performance of Arabs in developing scientific re­search.

“Israel conducts four times more research than all the Arab states put together,” he said.