UNESCO middle schools aim to boost flagging refugee enrollment

Syrian refugee students attend a session at the UNESCO middle school in Saadnayel. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

When Suzan al-Laham and her family fled Syria to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in 2016, she was determined to ensure that her daughter’s education would not be interrupted.

Laham promptly enrolled her daughter in the seventh grade at the local Lebanese public school.

But the girl struggled.

“She wasn’t understanding anything at all, because in Syria we don’t learn in English,” Laham said, while Lebanese schools teach most of the curriculum in English or French.

So when a new middle school, specifically targeted at Syrian preteens and teenagers in need of remedial education, opened at the beginning of this year near their house in Saadnayel, Laham decided to register her now-14-year-old daughter there. They have already seen the difference. “Before I was not good at all in English, and now I’ve gotten kind of good at it,” Laham’s daughter Ola al-Seed Wahbey said - writing her name in Latin letters to demonstrate.

Hoping to address dismal levels of secondary school enrollment among Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon, the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States, in partnership with Kayany Foundation, a Lebanese NGO, opened two new middle schools for refugees in the Bekaa Valley this year.