News & Reports

Few Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon Get Into Secondary Education

A report released last month has confirmed what has long been suspected—that the educational pipeline in Jordan and Lebanon has collapsed. In particular, refugee youth are not flowing through secondary schools—to graduation, or up into vocational or higher education.

The report was a collaboration between the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut and the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, in Dubai. It reviews previous studies of the educational situation of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, gathers data from a variety of sources, and summarizes information from original interviews of 60 key individuals familiar with refugee education in the two Levant countries.

The report, Pathways to and Beyond Education for Refugee Youth in Jordan and Lebanon, focused on secondary education, technical and vocational education, and tertiary, or university education. It widens the usual lens on the issue of refugee education to include Palestinians, many of whom have never attained citizenship rights or access to education in Jordan and Lebanon.  “A lot of their challenges are similar,” said Samar Farah, research manager at the Al Ghurair Foundation, who worked on the report. “Obviously not all of them. But a refugee remains a refugee.”

In reviewing the report’s findings, Farah said, “What surprised us the most were the numbers at the secondary level.”

Almost three million Syrians have fled to Lebanon and Jordan during the recent conflict. But, in Lebanon, only 2,709 Syrian refugees and 867 Palestinian refugees were enrolled in public secondary education, according to Lebanon’s Department of Secondary Education.

While support for refugees in higher education is important, Farah said, if organizations working on refugee education “don’t address the issues at an earlier stage, then ultimately everyone will be fighting over the same set of students.”

Many organizations interested in refugee education appear to be suffering from “donor fatigue” and believe they are up against long-standing and intractable problems, such as the need of refugees to have documentation of previous education or the inability of graduates to gain access to employment. But the authors of the new report hope that it may help to guide existing efforts to educate refugee youth and strengthen interest in doing more.

One of the chief barriers to education is the legal status of Syrians and Palestinians in the countries where they now reside. As of 2017, in Lebanon, 74 percent of Syrians in Lebanon lack legal residency status. In Jordan, only 16.5 percent of Syrians have legal residency status. Lebanon, in fact, does not recognize Syrians as refugees, since it has not ratified international conventions on refugees.

In trying to examine technical and vocational education, the report’s authors found a bit of a policy fog—with a lack of data on enrollment and programs. They also take note of entrenched negative public perceptions of vocational education, with many students and their parents viewing it as inferior, an attitude common in many other countries.

The report made policy recommendations, including:

  • Creating more sustainable financing for secondary education for refugees.
  • Providing remedial or accelerated learning programs to help students enter secondary education and succeed in it. Interruptions in the education of refugees, poor preparation at the primary level, and the language shift from Arabic to English in some schools means students need help to succeed.
  • Improving technical and vocational education and making it connect better to employers’ needs.
  • Developing more career and academic counseling for students before secondary education, during secondary education, and in their postsecondary life. Such counseling could help students understand all of their options, including vocational education, and help them understand the application process for postsecondary education, the report suggested.

While the report does not contain much information that is radically new, it adds scholarly authority to anecdote to point to possible remedies for the low participation rates of refugees in secondary education. “What is most important is to highlight the urgency of working at these specific levels,” Farah said.


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