To educate high school students, Eye on the Future, which has been supported by volunteers since 2011, works face-to-face with students, and communicates with them through advertising and social media. Most of the volunteers are university students who explain various disciplines and the branches and divisions of universities and help students pick a course of study that fits their expectations.
“The great interaction the program has with young people is a measurement of its success,” said Hammad. Eye on the Future has served more than 35,000 students in Jordan over the past eight years with the help of more than 500 volunteers, Hammad says.
Lebanon’s Programs Expand
Such initiatives are not limited to Jordan. Recently, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut launched a School-to-University Transition Program. The program targets vulnerable students in Beirut. In the spring of 2019, it worked with 100 students in the 11th grade in public schools. Sixty percent of the students were Lebanese and 40 percent were Syrian. They all participated in 20 hours of practical training in various disciplines. A student interested in nursing, for instance, might learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to respond to a choking victim. All students spent 10 hours of working with counselors over a period of two months discussing topics such as how to apply for scholarships.
“There is a big gap in awareness and guidance at the level of public and private schools, which we must address early and at the national level,” said Hana el-Ghali, director of the Education and Youth Policy Research Program at the Issam Fares Institute.
El-Ghali believes that one of the reasons behind the high unemployment among university graduates in Lebanon, which hit 25 percent among all adults and exceeds 36 percent among youth, is the lack of guidance in choosing university disciplines.
“There is a great need to start providing counseling at early school levels,” she said. “Higher education is very expensive in Lebanon, and the family is waiting for its children to graduate in order to work rather than being a burden on it.”
Another Lebanese organization, Unite Lebanon Youth, which is supported by a wide variety of donors, offers a program called BRIDGE that prepares refugee and disadvantaged youth in the 10th and 11th grades for the U.S.-based university entrance exam known as the SAT and gives them career and college counseling. The program also helps the students apply for scholarships.
“I think there is no way out of the refugee camp other than education,” said Melek el-Nimer, founder of the organization. “We only seek to facilitate their access to their rights and guide them towards the appropriate discipline.”
Still, the impact of these initiatives remains limited, given they have little government support. In Jordan, Hammad said, “We are working through volunteer efforts and have no source of income, let alone the difficulties we face to reach the target group and convince them of the importance of choosing a specialization carefully. We need more support to expand geographically and reach more students.”
El-Ghali, at the American University of Beirut, seems more optimistic about the future. The university’s program will follow up students over the next year as they make decisions about pursuing higher education, and will track their success in applying to universities and scholarships.
“If the program works, I hope it will expand to become a national initiative,” she said.