Arab education leaders are facing the challenge of schooling growing refugee populations head-on by working together and within the international community to get all refugee children into schools.
On the final day of Education International’s (EI) Arab Cross-Countries Regional Structure (ACCRS) held in Amman, Jordan,some 90 delegates from 13 Arab region countries tackled the refugee crisis that shows no sign of slowing.
“The number of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon is as high as 480 thousand, and only 100 thousand of them are enrolled in Lebanon’s public schools,” said Majid El Ayli from the Teachers’ Syndicate of Lebanon.
Although it was acknowledged that many conflict border Arab countries are welcoming refugee children, with the majority arriving from Palestine, Iraq and now Syria, in their schools, there was a general agreement that governments must do more to ensure that children are provided with a quality education, despite their difficult situation.
Khaled Alhabahbeh, from the Jordanian General Union of workers in Teaching (GUWT), explained that in his country, where more than 600 thousand refugees are currently based, refugee children amount to 12 per cent of students enrolled in the country’s public schools. While Hanan Faraj, from the Iraqi Teachers’ Union (ITU), highlighted the safety issues facing the children excluded from school by condemning the reality of young refugee girls forced into human trafficking, like they are being sold on the markets like cattle.
For increased support, the ACCRS is looking to EI and other international organisations to assist, especially in helping solve their severe educational infrastructures needs, textbook shortage, and to contribute basic requirements for refugees, such as food and clothes.
Getting even on the gender playing field
When the debate shifted to gender equality issues, emphasising the need for quotas and training on gender equality for all unionists and capacity-building training for female unionists, May-Britt Heimsaeter, of the Union of Educators Norway, shared her organisation’s experience.
“It took my union over a hundred years to set up gender-friendly structures,” she said. “At the beginning we even had two separated unions, one representing male teachers, the other female ones. Today, we aim at implementing a quota of 50 percent of women in leadership positions within the union.”
Lydia Karam from the Lebanese union Ligue des Professeurs de l’Enseignement Supérieur Public du Liban(LPESPL) noted that “there is a huge disparity of situations among female unionists throughout the Arab region”, depending on how gender equity and girls’ rights to education are taken into account. “We, as women, must keep on fighting for our rights, while men are born with them,” she said, stressing that “we need political, and not only theoretical, changes”.
Yemen Teachers Syndicate’s representative Nabilah Alhakimi insisted on “the important role Yemeni women played in bringing changes into unions and society and in the national dialogue.” While acknowledging her union’s support of the idea to having a quota of 30 percent of women in the leadership of political decision-making leadership, she regretted that 74 per cent of her country’s girls and women are still illiterate, especially in remote areas. “Women seem to still be better considered as voters that as candidates,” she said.
Before bringing the conference to a close, the ACCRS held elections that saw eight new members join the committee, while the current Chair, Taher Dhaker, retained his position. Rawan Haddad was elected Vice Chair.
More information, including the names of all new committee members, will be available on the EI ACCRS webpage here.