TRIPOLI/SIDON, Lebanon: The academic year for many Syrian refugee students began Monday in Tripoli, as Sidon prepares to integrate hundreds of refugees into its school system late next week.
More than 300 Syrian first graders began their school year in Tripoli’s Abi Samra neighborhood Tuesday. Many arrived waving Lebanese and pre-Baath era Syrian flags, some using crutches and walking sticks because of injuries suffered in Syria. Their first assignment was to draw pictures of their troubles.
Some 5,000 Syrian refugee students will attend seven Tripoli schools – all branches of the Islamic Education Association’s private Al-Iman Schools – this year.
Ghassan Hablas, head of the Islamic Education Association, said, “We hope it will be a year of blessings in Al-Iman’s seven schools in the north.”
He explained that Syrian students – except for those in grades 9 and 12 where there are official exams – will be following Syrian curriculum in their own classes. This way, he said, their education will be applicable when they are able to return to their home country.
The schools have hired 600 teachers, 95 percent of whom Hablas said are Syrian, to teach the courses. They will receive $600 per month, a salary Hablas called “less than that of the Lebanese teacher but enough for them to have a dignified life.”
Tuition, books, stationery and school uniforms will all be free of charge. “This is a charitable development project funded by some Arab organizations,” Hablas said, adding that he believed there would be at least 15,000 school-age refugees in the country this year.
“God willing we will soon meet with Prime Minister Najib Mikati to discuss this with him ... We are very happy because we have been able to achieve the educational goals we set.”
Classes for Syrian students will be held Monday through Thursday from 4-6 p.m., Friday 7:30-11:30 a.m., and Sunday 7:30-11:45 a.m.
In Sidon, preparations are still under way for the academic year, which will begin on Oct. 10. Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, the head of Parliament’s Education Committee, formed a joint committee that includes the Education Ministry as well as educational and relief organizations, to form an emergency plan that would ensure a “calm and uninterrupted academic year.”
In Sidon and its surrounding areas, 1,216 refugee students have been counted and so far 700 are set to attend nine private schools around the city. Palestinians who fled Syria will attend UNRWA schools in Sidon and the Ain al-Hilweh and Mieh Mieh Palestinian refugee camps.
As in Tripoli, most classes will be in line with Syrian curricula. The joint committee will pay for tuition and all other expenses, although transportation funding is still being negotiated.
Nabil Bawwab, general coordinator of committee member the Scholastic Network of Sidon and its Surrounding Areas, said, “The education plan MP Bahia Hariri launched in Sidon has succeeded in ensuring a normal start for the academic year for Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian students in Sidon’s schools. The goal was for no student to miss school, and to have a calm and stable academic year.”
“As teachers we will do our best to provide students an education equal to that of the Lebanese students.”
Kamel Kozbar, a principle of one of Sidon’s Al-Iman Schools and the head of committee member the Sidon Union of Relief Institutions, said that 17 Syrian teachers had been interviewed and would follow the Syrian curriculum at his school.