The COVID-19 outbreak has translated into a major education crisis. In Lebanon, 1.2 million children are affected by school closure and have seen their learning routine disrupted. While Lebanon has switched to distance teaching and learning to mitigate the effects of such disruption, challenges related to preparedness, infrastructure and capacity, as well as the digital gaps, have put additional strains on students, parents, teachers, and the educational authorities.
In this context, and in the framework of their educational response to the COVID-19 crisis, UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States (UNESCO Beirut) and Education Cannot Wait (ECW) joined efforts to support the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in developing inclusive distance learning solutions to ensure that learning never stops.
As one of the tracks of the Ministry of Education’s strategy to respond to the COVID-19 crisis focuses on developing online learning as an alternative to school closure, UNESCO Beirut and ECW, with generous support from the French government, furnished the Ministry with online learning material and digital resources to be used by teachers and students in Lebanon. 297 video lessons, covering Maths, Sciences, and French classes, were provided by Reseau CANOPE, and are available on the online platform launched by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education for the COVID-19 response.
The e-launch event took place on 22 May 2020 in presence of Minister of Education Dr Tarek Majzoub, Director of ECW Ms Yasmine Sherif, Representative of the French Embassy in Lebanon Ms Veronique Aulagnon, Director of UNESCO Beirut Dr Hamed Al Hamami, Director General of the Ministry of Education Mr Fadi Yarak, Director of the Department of Pedagogical Counselling at the Ministry Ms Hilda Khoury, and Director of Reseau Canope Ms Marie Missir.
The event was opened by Ms Maysoun Chehab, UNESCO Beirut’s Education Programme Officer for Lebanon, who highlighted the need to ensure not only the continuity of education during COVID-19, but also its quality and inclusion. Chehab praised the strong cooperation between UNESCO, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, ECW and the French government to ensure that learning never stops and that no child is deprived of his/her right for education.
Then, UNESCO Beirut’s Director Dr Hamed Al Hamami made a speech in which he stated that: “This cooperation comes within the framework of UNESCO’s project “Supporting francophone teaching and learning in Lebanon”, funded by ECW with the support of the French government, and launched in November 2018. The project aims to promote the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning in French for vulnerable Lebanese and non-Lebanese students enrolled in public schools, and is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education”. He added: “The Covid-19 crisis has resulted in a paradigm shift on how learners of all ages, worldwide, can access learning. E learning have become an integral part of education around the world. Countries are opting to online and distance learning solutions to make it up for school closure. It is therefore more than ever essential that we work together now to foster access to learning resources whether in low tech or high tech modalities”. Al Hamami said: “While Lebanon is promoting alternative solutions for school closure, including online learning solutions, we have a special responsibility to ensure inclusion and equity for all learners, so that no one is left behind. The e learning resources we are launching today will be reaching more than 1000 schools and more than 200,000 students in Lebanon. We hope that those resources will contribute to more effective learning during this crisis, will promote active and interactive learning, and will support retention effort”.
In her turn, Director of ECW Ms Yasmine Sherif stated: “Lebanon deserves all our support and cooperation. The admirable efforts of the Lebanese Ministry of Education to enable online learning brings equity and access to education for vulnerable children, including refugee and displaced girls and boys. This is how we empower these children to improve their learning, while unlocking their potential for innovation. Our appreciation and gratitude to the Government of France for making this possible. Our appreciation also goes for UNESCO who has years of experience in modeling, testing, and sharing some of the world’s most innovative learning solutions, and their ideas are now available for nations like Lebanon midst this crisis”.
Mr Fadi Yarak, Director General of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, said that the Ministry is “committed to working with all partners to ensure inclusion and equity of education, especially during the most difficult times, such as the COVID-19 crisis”. He added : “We hope that with these digital resources all students in Lebanon will have access to education, and no one will be left behind. We hope these resources will help ensure the continuity of education, its quality, and equity”.
Speaking on behalf of the French embassy in Lebanon, Ms Veronique Aulagnon reiterated France’s support for the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and for Lebanon in ensuring children’s right for quality education. Aulagnon said: “After we provided the digital resources to the Ministry, it is now time to build the capacity of staff at the Department of Pedagogical Counselling and teachers so that they use these resources in the most efficient way to ensure the continuity and quality of education”.
In his speech, Minister of Education Dr Tarek Majzoub said: “We are happy to partner with UNESCO and ECW to facilitate inclusive learning opportunities for children during this period of sudden and unprecedented educational disruption. Special thanks to the French Government for its generous contribution that made this important initiative happen”, adding that: “This collective action will help build a more resilient system to develop more open and flexible approaches to reach all our children in Lebanon and to promote the values of the francophonie: citizenship, coexistence, and dialogue”. Minister Majzoub reiterated the Ministry’s commitment to ensure the inclusion of all children in the education system, especially the most vulnerable and the conflict-affected and displaced children.
Lastly, Ms Hilda Khoury, Director of the Department of Pedagogical Counselling at the Ministry of Education, presented a brief overview of the achievements of the project “Supporting francophone teaching and learning in Lebanon”, and the mechanisms through which these digital resources will be integrated into remote learning.