How Do You Solve a Problem Like Education for Children Fleeing Conflict?

Teacher stands at whiteboard in front of children

Inequality can lead to unrest, and when educational inequality doubles, the chance of conflict more than doubles. Today, the number of people displaced by conflicts is at an all-time high.

Children in conflict can lose their homes, families, schools and so much more. Without an education, they can also lose their future. The statistics from UNICEF are staggering:

  • 1 in 4 of the world’s out-of-school children live in crisis-affected countries;
  • In 35 crisis-affected countries, 75 million children between the ages of 3 and 18 are experiencing a disrupted education;
  • Over 17 million school-aged children in those countries are refugees, with only half attending primary school;
  • For children attending school, quality of education can be low, with an average of 70 pupils per teacher – often unqualified; and,
  • Girls in conflict-affected countries are 2.5x more likely to be out of school than boys.

Ensuring that children still have access to quality education, even when fleeing conflict or living in camps for displaced people, is a significant global challenge.

The war in Syria has displaced millions of people internally and to surrounding countries. Lebanon alone hosts almost 2 million Syrian refugees, of whom 400,000 are of school-going age.

Against this backdrop, Bridge ran an innovative pilot programme for Syrian refugee children, using a model which has delivered proven learning gains in Kenyan national exit exams.

The Bridge programme was designed to look at how education can be delivered in areas of conflict and large scale humanitarian need.

Basmeh & Zeitooneh school is in the Shatila camp in southern Beirut. It’s a non-formal, donor-funded NGO school where children are educated in two shifts, 300 pupils at a time. There was limited data to assess whether the children in these classrooms were actually learning.

Teachers at the school have a range of backgrounds both ethnically and educationally. There are some who have significant educational experience and some who have little. They come from Lebanon, Palestine and Syria and have varying degrees of fluency in the English language. However, what they have in common is a commitment to ensure that a generation of children do not miss out on an education amidst the destruction and devastation they have fled.

The challenge of delivering learning gains within the environmental and operational challenges posed during a humanitarian disaster should not be underestimated. Utilising technology to achieve this is at the cornerstone of current thinking and was widely discussed at the UNESCO Paris mobile learning summit earlier this year, which focused on ‘catalysing innovation’ and ‘enriching learning opportunities for displaced people.’ The Syrian pilot sought to use technology as a mechanism for delivering improved learning gains in a challenging operational environment.

At Basmeh & Zeitooneh, second grade classes were assessed on seven skills across maths and English:

  • counting, speed, and accuracy in math; and,
  • speaking, sight word knowledge, decodable word knowledge, and sentence reading ability.

The results of the pilot indicated measurable learning gains, with those in a Bridge classroom averaging a 22% improvement on the end line English test.

Bridge Pupil Amina said: “now I start to read, I am really happy and proud that I can read.”

Whilst Sidra said he had “started to teach my brother at home.”

Whilst running a small-scale pilot in Southern Beirut barely scratches the surface of the diversity of teachers, students, and classroom contexts present across Lebanon and indeed other areas of conflict. It provides interesting insight into the technological possibilities available to ensure that displaced persons do not lose out on quality education, when they have already lost out on so much.

The Lebanon pilot was enabled through the support of The Vitol Foundation and McKinsey & Company

Hear more from the students and teachers involved in our pilot (8mins 05secs) below.