Lebanon’s Education Ministry should extend the December 4th, 2021, school registration deadline for Syrian children and end policies that are blocking Syrian refugee children’s access to education, Human Rights Watch said today. Thousands of Syrian refugee children have been out of school, blocked by policies that require certified educational records, legal residency in Lebanon, and other official documents that many Syrians cannot obtain.
Tardy Education Ministry decisions mean that many Syrian children may be unable to register by December 4th. Syrian children are not automatically enrolled in school each year. Each fall, humanitarian groups must wait for the ministry’s official guidance in a question and answer document, which this year only came on November 29th, before they can reach out to and support Syrian communities to enroll their children. Most Syrian children must also wait to register until the ministry publishes a list of schools that will run second-shift classes for these children. The list was disseminated on November 30th.
Nowhere to turn
“There is no excuse for policies that block Syrian children from going to school and leave them with nowhere to turn for a better future,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The education minister has inherited petty, discriminatory rules that are still undermining education for refugee children a decade after the Syria conflict began, and he should end them.”
The Education Ministry should clearly and publicly announce that children can enroll in schools without Lebanese residency, birth registration, or Syrian government documents, and need not provide evidence of previous formal education or certified non-formal education. Many Syrian children cannot obtain these documents, through no fault of their own.
Lebanon hosts 660,000 school-age Syrian refugee children, but 30 percent – 200,000 – have never been to school, a 2021 UN assessment found, and almost 60 percent were not enrolled in school in recent years. Registration numbers this year have been very low, according to humanitarian groups. Since 2019, when schools were closed for lengthy periods in response to widespread anti-corruption protests and the Covid-19 pandemic, even Syrian children who were enrolled received little to no distance learning.
The majority of Syrian students attend second-shift classes at public schools, which have not yet opened. Regular classes at public schools opened on October 11th, after the ministry reached a temporary agreement with teachers who had threatened to strike over low wages due to Lebanon’s financial crisis. Second-shift teachers, who work on short-term contracts, have also threatened to strike over unpaid and low wages.
Syrian children seeking to attend regular classes must wait until after Lebanese children are enrolled for unfilled spaces. Fewer spaces are available because about 54,000 Lebanese students transferred from private to public schools during the 2020-21 school year as the economic situation in the country has crumbled. At least 90 percent of Syrian refugees are now living below Lebanon’s extreme poverty line, up from 55 percent in 2019.
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.