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Letter from Professor Ian Linden, CMG
19 May 2021
Lebanon and Syria’s lost generations-the false premise of the binary choice between humanitarian aid and maintaining children in education-both are vital.
Since my last newsletter towards the end of 2020 the economic situation in Lebanon at its most basic level is now into deep crisis territory. Unemployment is sky-high, and even those fortunate enough to have either kept or found a job have seen the purchasing power of their salaries and living standards of their families collapse. The prime daily objective is simply and somehow to survive, and find the means to buy even the most basic necessities many of which are in short supply. Recent surveys put more than 50 percent of the population below the poverty line though it is generally recognised the reality beyond the statistics is even worse. For Syrian refugees the figure is even higher, with an estimated 83 percent living below the extreme poverty line.
Lebanon once had a modern public and private school system with high levels of attainment in science and mathematics. There are now 660,000 Lebanese children of school age. Only 21% of 15-17 teenagers attend school, 69% of the 6-14 age group. Fewer than half the 631,000 Syrian refugee children in the country have access to formal education; some 180,000 have to find work to help support their families, 90% of which live below the poverty line (*)
Owing to the pandemic, schools had to close in March 2020. The current situation is that lessons are only available at the secondary level (14 years +) primarily virtually. Without computers, laptops or internet access, which in any case is beyond their means, and with lengthy daily power cuts, even on-line lessons are out of the question for Syrian refugee children, as well as the ever increasing numbers of Lebanese children. In simple terms the tragedy we are witnessing in Lebanon, already prey to an escalating problem of children dropping out of school before the pandemic, is the loss at the very least of two years of schooling. When schools, as well as the Afterschool Program centres supported by TCCT re-open in September, the importance of their work will never have been more critical.
Britain is holding a Global Education Summit in two months’ time. It is hoped some 90 countries will participate and make five-year pledges of funding in a global partnership for education for lower-income countries. I looked up which countries would benefit and Lebanon is not included despite the statistics listed in this letter. I also checked on major donor interventions for Lebanon in education—the few that appear are due to undergo major cuts and are destined for Lebanon’s Government—a government which is not functioning at present.
Without education for their children, Syrian refugees as well as impoverished Lebanese, will at best live to see another day but, unable to make a decent living, will be deprived of any meaningful future.
Yet, how often do we hear about the implications of the collapse of the educational system in conflict countries such as Syria, Yemen, Somalia? Humanitarian aid and the provision of education should not be an either/or choice for international donors or just the focus of high-level policy advice. At its most basic level it is precisely the commitment to education that nurtures optimism and provides hope for a better future.
Turning now to recent developments at TCCT, where we all continue to work hard to raise vital funds to assist our partner Caritas Lebanon to both maintain and expand the Afterschool Program, I am happy to announce the appointment of a new Trustee. This is part of the Trust’s ongoing commitment to both gender diversity and to draw on the ideas, energy and experience of younger people. The Trustees were delighted to welcome Florence Wolstenholme to the Board. Florence brings with her considerable experience in Lebanon, Syria and the broader region and earlier educational work for a Beirut based NGO. As Florence says: “Our TCCT pledge must be to persevere, play our small part and never to forget that education is a child’s human right”.
My best wishes to all of you and please stay safe
(*) ‘Point of no return: Many of Lebanon’s Children risk never returning to school’ Report by Save The Children, 1st April 2021.