UNESCO Beirut joined efforts with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, UNICEF, UNHCR, the World Bank and International Donors for the launch of this year’s Back to School campaign. The campaign, titled “Abtal Al-Madrasa/ School Heroes”, pays tribute to all the inspiring individuals who push through every challenge to prioritize education and most importantly the children themselves who put their presence and success in school above all else.
Under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s Back to School initiative, 14 donor countries and funds, 4 UN agencies, more than 100 local and international NGOs in addition to hundreds of Lebanese civil servants in public institutions are providing financial, operational and logistical support to guarantee access to formal and non-formal education for children and youth aged between 3 and 18 while strengthening the long-term capacity of the Lebanese public education system to improve the quality of education services.
Through this initiative, all children in public schools are provided with text books and stationery. For non-Lebanese students the tuition fees are also paid and for Lebanese children the Parent Council fees at schools are covered ($60) – the Government of Lebanon covers the remaining fees for Lebanese children. Additionally 147 schools were rehabilitated this year and more than 29,000 children accessed Non-Formal Education programmes like Early Childhood Education, Accelerated Learning Program, and Basic Literacy and Numeracy.
Speaking at the launching ceremony held on 31 August 2017 at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, H.E. Minister Marwan Hamadeh emphasized the ministry’s commitment to “ ensure every child in Lebanon has access to good quality education”. “Last year, 260,000 Lebanese and 195,000 non-Lebanese children between the ages 3 and 18 were enrolled in public schools. This increase was only possible through commitment and dedication of hundreds of civil servants at the Ministry, the heroic efforts of children, parents and communities aided by the generosity of our partners and international donors. We count on all of you to continue this support to reach more children this year. The Lebanese public education system is under a lot of strain and in need of substantial improvement of systems and capacities. We can only continue our successes through the sustained commitment of the international community to the future of children in Lebanon and their enrolment in schools.”
UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, Ms Tanya Chapuisat, stated : “A child’s place is in school. But before children can go to schools several people and institutions who believe in the importance of education must step in to remove hurdles and pave the way for these children: those are the people we honour today. Parents, teachers, ministries, humanitarian workers and donors; you’ve all played an important role to get almost 400,000 children in basic education last year. We count on you to keep the promise for children and ensure they can continue with their education next year.”
UNESCO Beirut’s representative, Ms Dakmara Georgescu, stressed the importance of secondary education saying “Because all youth have the right to quality education, and because education improves young people’s future prospects in life and work, UNESCO will continue to partner with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to pay tuitions for non-Lebanese young students in public schools in addition to providing logistical support to the Ministry.” Georgescu highlighted how vital it is to “focus on and invest in youth and their future through education. It is even more so for the countless vulnerable and marginalized youth in Lebanon. Available evidence clearly shows the critical importance of continued learning beyond basic education to ensure that young people consolidate basic skills and acquire the necessary knowledge, values and skills for life and work”.
As to UNHCR’s Representative in Lebanon, Ms Mireille Girard, she stated that: “Education plays a central role in protecting young refugees and preparing them for a brighter future when it is safe for them to return home. Children who have missed out on education for years have the chance to attend schools and are supported to join educational programmes thanks to unwavering support from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, donors, and partners.” And added that: “Community volunteers play an invaluable role in raising awareness about school enrolment and the importance of education, and in supporting the retention of refugee children in schools. We salute their efforts, and those of everyone who works tirelessly to ensure a brighter future for young refugees”.
This year special efforts have been made to reach every child in their community and encourage parents to enrol children in public school. An innovative social media and communication campaign has been launched to reinforce the message that each member of society has a role to play to ensure children’s access to education. Through the UN’s community outreach programmes tens of thousands of the most vulnerable children were reached to ensure parents and children understand the education pathways available to them and encourage enrolment and a dedicated hotline service to answer questions related to school enrolment (01-594300).
While generous funding has been provided by donors, last year’s Back to School initiative still faces a USD 9.8 million funding gap. At the same time next year’s initiative faces a USD 25 - 35 million funding gap.