Sunday 13, March 2016

Dubai – MENA Herald: In a hard-hitting appeal, Lebanon’s Minister for Education Elias Bou Saab called on the international community to move fast to support the education of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon or risk the creation of a ‘lost generation.’

In his special address at the closing plenary of the fourth Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai, Minister Bou Saab said the international community is moving too slow, warning that the education system cannot wait. “When you miss an academic year for these children, we make it even longer for the children to return to school, risking a lost generation of children who will be denied the opportunity to go to school.”

Minister Bou Saab was unequivocal in condemning war, stating: “Let us stop the war and start education; that is the right thing for all. Billions of dollars are spent on the war in Syria but no one is prepared to move fast to spend a few millions to educate the children who are left out of the opportunity to study because of the war.”

Lebanon today has over 2 million refugees, 1.5 million of them from Syria including 450,000 children, compared to the country’s population of 4 million, said Minister Bou Saab. “Putting every child in classrooms is our biggest challenge. If you do not do so, it will open doors to many issues including child labour and abuse.”

Narrating the story of a little girl whom he met at a refugee camp, whose dream is to become an engineer and return to Syria to rebuild her country, Minister Bou Saab said that it is important to restore hope and homes for the Syrian refugees.

“Our goal is to ensure that all the 450,000 Syrian refugee children are put to school by 2017. We have created the initiative, Reach All Children with Education (RACE), and have already put 100,000 students in the first year since the crisis, and 200,000 in the second year.” But there is a long way to go.

At a press conference held later where Bou Saab was joined by Prof. Mohammed Thneibat, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education of Jordan and George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece, the overwhelming consensus of the panel was that governments around the world lack the political will to implement solutions to resolve the refugee crisis.

To address the challenge, creative, out-of-the-box approaches are needed, said Minister Bou Saab. “The cost of putting one Syrian refugee child in school is US$336 per year; if we operate a double-shift, it will be US$550 per year. But it is important that funds are raised urgently to resolve the crisis.”

Failing to address it would not only aggravate the crisis for the region but also potentially trigger the next wave of illegal immigration to Europe and other parts of the world, said Minister Bou Saab.

He said that Lebanon is also placing importance of promoting the health and wellness of the Syrian refugee children, and cited the story of Mohammed, a 7-year-old boy, who died at school.

“He had a heart condition but his father never took them to hospital. Mohammed is but one of millions of refugee children, who face such crisis every day. We are helping parents understand about healthcare. We can give them hope only through education, shelter and food.”

Minister Thneibat also urged the international community to set up a trust fund so that the money is easily available for humanitarian relief of the refugees.

Minister Bou Saab called to emulate the successful model set by Varkey Foundation in Ghana. The initiative, Making Ghanaian Girls Great! (MGCubed) is the country’s first interactive distance-learning project. It will impact more than 4,000 marginalised girls (aged 9-14 years) in 72 schools, within two regions in Ghana (Volta and Greater Accra) and offer them an enhanced quality of education to improve their lives and transform their future.

A structural and systematic change is the only way forward to promote education of children among affected communities, observed Minister Bou Saab. “The government and the system must catch up; we must make the changes where it matters; we must update our curriculum and get creative.”

GESF is convened by the Varkey Foundation and held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

With partners including UNESCO, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Dubai Cares, GESF features intense debates on reconciling the relevance, excellence and inclusiveness of both public and private learning environments. GESF 2016 will culminate on Sunday March 13 with the live announcement of the second annual award of the US $1 million Global Teacher Prize.