News Agencies Feed
Cash shortfall hits refugee education

Oct 04

 Cash shortfall hits refugee education

BEIRUT: This week marked the opening of registration for Syrian children who plan to enroll in Lebanese public schools that offer an afternoon “second shift” for non-Lebanese students. In recent years, the run-up to the new school year has also meant the launch of the Back to School campaign, a door-to-door outreach initiative to ensure that out-of-school Syrian refugee children receive formal education. But this year, as a result of funding issues, the campaign has been scaled back.

The number of Syrian children enrolled in Lebanese schools has increased steadily each year of the refugee crisis. But an estimated 36 percent of Syrian children in Lebanon aged 6-14 still remain out of formal schooling, and 23 percent are not in any kind of educational program, according to officials from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

If the age group is expanded to include those aged 3-18, 55 percent remain out of school and 40 percent receive no form of education.

When planning for the coming school year, education officials had initially hoped to increase the number of spots for non-Lebanese students from about 215,000 the number enrolled last year to 250,000, Sonia Khoury, who oversees the Reaching All Children with Education program for the Lebanese Education Ministry, told The Daily Star.

But with the money committed so far from international donors who fund the education of Syrian refugee children in the Lebanese schools a funding gap of $28 million in enrollment expenses is anticipated.

This will be the case even if the number of children who enroll remains the same as last year, according to figures provided by UNICEF.

If the number of spots for non-Lebanese children increased to 250,000, the gap would balloon to $49 million.

“We are increasing on a yearly basis the number of children, and on the other hand, the donors are not increasing their funds,” Khoury said.

Contributing to the shortfall, funding that the United States had previously given to UNICEF to use for enrollments was shifted into other education programs this year.

A USAID spokesman said in a statement that since the creation of RACE in 2014, the U.S. had “realigned its work to support it.”

Now, he said, “most of our awards contributing to RACE Pillars are ending. USAID will continue to support RACE through a new, $90 million, five-year award” for which procurement is currently in process. He did not provide data on the amount of support provided to RACE last year.

Given the funding issues, Khoury said the ministry decided to freeze enrollment at the same number as last year rather than increase the spaces available.

“How can we go ahead with our programs, and how can we go ahead with opening new second-shift schools? We can’t do this,” she said.

As to the Back to School campaign, she said, “We can’t enroll more [children] because of the funds, so I’m not going to [do] outreach.”

Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF’s Lebanon representative, said there will still be efforts to identify children who are out of school and could be eligible to enroll if additional funding becomes available.

As to the freezing of registration numbers, she said she does not believe the ministry will enforce a hard cap: “If another 2,000 kids turn up and register, I don’t think they’re going to close the door, to be honest.”

But some of those children will face a second hurdle to getting into the classroom.

The fate of the Accelerated Learning Program, a bridge initiative intended to help children who have been out of school for several years catch up before joining regular classrooms, is also uncertain.

Last year, more than 12,000 children enrolled in the program.

So far this year, UNICEF officials said, funding will allow for only 2,000 spots.

“It’s how much money we have it’s literally as simple as that,” Chapuisat said.

“If we don’t have money, we can’t do it. The ministry provides a service that we pay for, so if we can’t pay for it, they can’t provide it.”

Without the ALP program, Khoury said, even if spots are available, the schools can enroll only young children starting school, not older children who have been out of school for some time.

“Even if we want to bring those kids, unfortunately they have been out of school for several years, so they need a kind of accelerated program so that they catch up again,” she said.

Likewise, nonformal education programs to improve basic literacy and math skills will be scaled back, and Chapuisat said funds may not even be available to cover the $60 school fees charged to parents of Lebanese children in public schools, as has been done in the past.

A pilot program called Min Ila that had provided cash subsidies to refugee families in Akkar and Mount Lebanon for each child in school has also been cut.

A study of Min Ila’s results did not find evidence that the program encouraged more students to register, even though the program appeared to reduce absenteeism among children whose families received the cash. Those children missed an average of 20 percent less class than those who did not.

Chapuisat explained that in many cases, families might pull children out on a temporary basis to work seasonally, and the cash may have given them an incentive to leave the children in school instead.

But she said not enough funding was available to expand the program nationwide, and the aid will be shifted instead to vulnerable children who are out of school.

Some 80,000 children will continue to receive a separate subsidy to help cover transportation costs, but without the Min Ila money, she said, “maybe we’ll see kids once again go back to working, spending more days out of school than in the past.”

Umm Tamer, the mother of a 12-year-old boy registered in the second shift at the Deir Dalloum school in Akkar, told The Daily Star that she had become distraught when she received a message informing her that the assistance had been cut off.

The aid the family received last year LL20,000 ($13) a month had gone toward paying the cost of the bus to take her son to school, she said. “The bus to take him costs LL25,000 a month, and I can’t pay,” she said. “What am I supposed to do?”

Some people working in the field also expressed concerns. Karim Rishani, project manager with Relief & Reconciliation Lebanon, an NGO working in Akkar in the education sector, and a former north Lebanon education officer and field coordinator for UNICEF, said that in spite of some issues in the second-shift classrooms, it is best for children to be enrolled in formal education.

“Public schools that opened a second shift four years ago are still there and running,” he said. “It’s not like the nonformal education programs, where you have them there for six months and then they disappear, then they open a new place, then they disappear again. And all the teachers have the minimum requirements to be schoolteachers.”

Still, Chapuisat downplayed the funding issues, pointing out that school years commonly begin with a funding gap and that more donors may step forward in the coming months. “If we get to the end of the year and we have a $20 million gap, you’ll hear me come knocking on your door,” she said. “But at this point it’s a bit premature to start yelling too loud.”