Many students in Lebanon risk losing another year of school unless foreign donors meeting in Brussels this week can come up with a viable plan to deal with the education crisis.
Public-school students – including Syrian refugees – have suffered through four years of chaos: 27 percent dropped out last year alone. Donor support to education is critical to stabilizing the school system, but relying on Lebanese authorities to implement that support risks a fifth lost year.
Learning collapsed during two years of COVID-related school closures. As Lebanon’s financial crisis worsened, teachers’ salaries plunged. International donors repurposed funds to boost teachers’ income but the education ministry reportedly lost track of and misallocated funds. The resulting teachers’ strikes meant students received just 60 days of school in each of the last two years. The international norm is 180 days.
The root causes of the education crisis are mismanagement and lack of accountability, the Center for Lebanese Studies recently reported. The center tallied an average US$250 million in donor education aid to Lebanon each year, in support of Lebanon’s pledge to get every child, including Syrian refugees, “into quality education.” It is difficult to follow the money, but hundreds of thousands of Syrian children were left out of school, including children whose education donors ostensibly paid for. A recent audit found the education ministry, as required by law, assigned people to oversee grants, but without informing them. The money was actually controlled by persons unknown.
New donor funding for education is drying up, according to education groups. Donor frustration is understandable. The education ministry’s 5-year strategy for 2021-25 does not address the financial crisis or teachers’ strikes, its “Reform Roadmap” for 2023-25 has not been published. A mechanism announced a year ago to ensure “timeliness of funds disbursement”, linked to substantial existing funding commitments, has not been implemented.
Instead of relying on the education ministry, donors at this weeks’ conference should formulate a plan to work with the UN, teachers, and groups providing education to push through four crucial steps before the new school year. First, establish an emergency education plan and restore access to all students; then, assess and publish the costs of the school year; next, regularly publish information about funding allocations, expenditures, and results; and finally, bypass government channels and deliver aid directly to teachers and schools.