Many of Lebanon’s children ‘may never get back to school’

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 1.2 million children in Lebanon have been out of school.

Children play on a street in the Gemmayzeh district of Lebanon's capital Beirut after the monster blast at the nearby port that devastated the city [File: AFP]

Lebanon’s dire economic crisis faces the risk of turning into an “education catastrophe”, a leading humanitarian organisation has warned, with vulnerable children facing the possibility of never returning to school.

In a report published on Thursday, Save the Children said since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 1.2 million children in Lebanon have been out of school.

Over the past year and a half, the pandemic has exacerbated the socioeconomic inequality, with more than half of Lebanese families living in poverty. The situation for Palestinian and Syrian refugee families in the country is even worse at 70 and 90 percent, respectively.

Poverty affects the ability of families to buy learning equipment, such as smartphones and regular internet connectivity. It further threatens the children’s return to education, as these families are forced to resort to relying on their children to provide an income, resulting in Save the Children saying that the question for many children in Lebanon is not when, but if they will return to school.

“Education for thousands of children in Lebanon is hanging by a thread,” said Jennifer Moorehead, Save the Children’s Lebanon country director.

“And a large number of children may never get back into a classroom either because they have missed so much learning already or because their families can’t afford to send them to school.”

Moorehead underlined because children in Lebanon already have lower rates of literacy than the average in countries in the Middle East region, the effect would ultimately lead to higher rates of child labour, child marriages, and other forms of abuse and exploitation.

“Like with many crises, it is the poorest children and the country’s large number of refugees who are worst hit by the quickly deteriorating crisis,” she said.

“The longer children are out of school, the more they will fall behind.”

The learning crisis, which began to worsen in October 2019 when protests and civil unrest racked the country, has been further expounded by a number of factors, such as the August 2020 port explosion in Beirut, the recent currency collapse and COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Save the Children has warned critical action must be undertaken in order to ensure “an entire generation does not lose the opportunity to get an education”.

The organisation has called for all children to receive enabled access to education regardless of their background or gender, as well as for the reopening of schools as soon as it is safe to do so.

Source: Al Jazeera