Poverty + Development

Inside Syrian Refugee Schools: Teachers struggle to create conditions for learning

Brooking's Sarah Dryden-Peterson and Elizabeth Adelman explore the experiences of Syrian refugee children and their teachers, drawing on long-term observations and interviews in Lebanon in formal and non-formal schools that serve Syrian refugees.

The Irada Valley School sits deep within Lebanon’s fertile Bekaa Valley. Visit on a sunny day and the view from the rooftop is equal parts stunning and sobering: expansive blue skies, emerald green fields, majestic mountains, and hundreds of tattered, disintegrating tents. These temporary shelters are home to over a thousand Syrian refugee families, the majority of whom do not have access to public schools. Of the more than 360,000 refugee children (aged 5 to 17) living in Lebanon, 49 percent are out of school.

Irada, a pseudonym, is a welcome addition to this community. This non-formal school serves over 600 Syrian refugee students from kindergarten through third grade and focuses on preparing students to enter the formal public system. Everyone who inhabits the space of this makeshift school—teachers and students alike—has had their lives disrupted by conflict.

Take Hadia (also a pseudonym). Hadia had been teaching kindergarten in Syria for over 10 years before the war forced her family to flee to Lebanon. She arrived four years ago, seeking a safer, more stable environment for her three children, two of whom are deaf. Unlike most refugees, Hadia was fortunate to have Lebanese relatives who could offer a temporary home. However, what may have seemed like a benefit to many, felt like a burden to Hadia. “I just wanted to relieve my dependency on my husband’s aunt. I don’t want to be like, ‘feed me and give me water.’ If I didn’t work, produce, and provide a living for my children, I wouldn’t be comfortable.”

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