At UNESCO Middle School in Meksseh, Bekaa, teachers receive training in active learning and psychosocial support for Syrian refugee students

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13 February 2019
At UNESCO Middle School in Meksseh, Bekaa, teachers receive training in active learning and psychosocial support for Syrian refugee students
“The war has created a human tragedy. Not only it provoked large-scale displacement of people out of Syria, but it also generated an acute education crisis, with an increased number of out-of-school children. By providing education opportunities for young Syrian refugees, the schools established by UNESCO give hope that we will not have a lost generation of Syrians, deprived of education”. With these words, Ms Nahed El-Kholy, expresses her satisfaction for the establishment of the UNESCO Middle School in Meksseh village, Bekaa.

Nahed is a science teacher in a school in Homs. She and her family left Syria in 2013 and fled as refugees to Lebanon. The family settled in a refugee camp in Meksseh village, in Bekaa, and started to look for a job to make a living. Nahed first served as a teacher at a girls’ school for Syrians in Barr Elias, before moving in Fall 2018 to UNESCO Middle School in Meksseh.

The school is one of UNESCO’s Middle Schools established in Lebanon with the support of Kayani Foundation and with generous funding from KSRelief to provide education for Syrian refugees and alleviate the impact of the Syria crisis. According to UNHCR, more than 4.8 million Syrian nationals have sought refuge in neighboring countries, 1.1 million of whom settling in Lebanon. As education is key to ensure the well-being of children, and thus establish stability, security, and long-lasting peace, it is essential to create learning, inclusive and peaceful environments in host communities to welcome and encourage Syrian children to enroll in schools, and to improve their educational retention. Despite the great efforts taken by the Ministry of Education in Lebanon to provide education for Syrian refugees, immense challenges still exist. While enrollment is considerably high at the elementary level, it significantly drops in middle school, to completely scores low in secondary.

Against this backdrop, to fill the gap and complement recent efforts, UNESCO Beirut has established middle schools in Lebanon that accommodate Syrian children and youth in Lebanon. Funded by KSRelief within the framework of their “Completion of Basic education for Syrian Refugees” program, and established in partnership with Kayani Foundation, the schools aim to provide Syrian students with complementary education opportunities and educational and psychological support programs to complete basic education. The two schools, one in Meksseh, and one in Saadnayel, are established based on the GHATA model developed by the American University of Beirut to address the urgent need for a safe and temporary shelter for Syrian refugees living in Informal Tented Settlements throughout Lebanon. They are also based on UNESCO’s “Whole School Approach Model for Education in Emergencies”, an educational program that targets children at risk of dropping out of school, allowing them to return to the educational track and join their class according to their age, thus improving their ability to continue education.

The schools, which accommodate 500 at-risk Syrian children and include 50 Syrian teachers and administrative staff, implement a life skills learning program to achieve an educational structure that encompasses psychological wellbeing.

From 8 to 11 February 2019, the teachers gathered at Meksseh Middle School to attend a training workshop on psychosocial support for vulnerable students, motivational education, and active learning. The 3-day training, facilitated by Dr Hiam Lotfi, covered a wide range of topics, including: understanding education in emergencies and re-integrating children into education; teaching multi-grade level students and dealing with challenging behaviors; delivering child centered teaching that aims to building self-esteem and promoting resilience; understanding and responding to children’s needs in difficult situations.

Nahed spoke of the value of this training in helping her overcome the obstacles she encounters while performing her job: “We deal with children who have lost everything: their houses, their school environment, their family… They have serious psychological problems and we need to be careful to their sensitivities when teaching them. This training provided a platform for all participants to share experiences and best practices in terms of dealing with vulnerable students”. Nahed added that some students are reluctant to attend school because of their difficulty to adapt to the Lebanese curriculum: “Students have a hard time understanding why, while they were excelling in their school in Syria, they are now encountering difficulties in the school in Lebanon. They quickly lose their self-esteem and want to quit school. In this training, we acquired skills on how to engage students, stimulate them, and boost their motivation for education so they do not drop out”.

As to Ms Samar Jomrok, who fled Homs in 2012 and is now teaching at Meksseh School, she emphasized that the UNESCO schools “are particularly efficient in attracting students to and bringing them back to the educational track”. Samar said: “Students relate to their teachers, they identify with them, precisely because they are from the same community. Similarly, teachers have a natural ability to understand the psychosocial needs of the students because they have gone through the same human experience of displacement and war”. Samar added that the training workshop was useful because “it rested on a participatory approach and dynamic role-play, which allowed all participants to share their experiences and come out together with the best tools to promote active learning and educational motivation in their classes”.

Samar and Nahed are hopeful that UNESCO’s Middle Schools will have a direct impact on the future of Syrian children: “By bringing back Syrian kids to the educational track, by providing them with quality education and supporting their psychosocial and emotional needs, these schools are lifting the kids out of their dire life conditions, and equipping them with the skills to survive and pursue a career and a better future”.