For almost 64 years, since the Nakba, and according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) statistics released last year; Palestinian refugees’ number in Lebanon is estimated at about 465,798. They are distributed in 12 camps recognized by the Lebanese government, in addition to 54 residential areas across Lebanon. This massive distribution created a problem for the UNRWA in terms of educational services. UNRWA was criticized over its performance within the education field of Palestinian refugee students in Lebanon. Here is the question: What is the likelihhod that UNRWA will improve its educational performance this year?, particularly given that the school year has just started in September 2012 and is not going to accommodate Palestinian refugees from Lebanon but also Palestinian refugees who fled Syria to Lebanon due to the ongoing crisis.
UNRWA’s Educational Policy, statistics and Numbers 2000-2012
According to UNRWA’s yearly statistics, the number of students in the year 2000 was 41,153 spread across 75 primary and secondary schools. In 2005, the number of students decreased to 39,290 while the number of schools incereaded to 87. As for the last and most recent UNRWA statistics released in January 2012, the number of students decreased to 32,213 and schools were estimated at 68. In a very simple comparison, one could deduce that there is an alarming decline in UNRWA’s performance, and perhaps the key reason for this retreat is a school dropout for male and female students. In twelve years time, the number of students is expected to fall to only 8900, merely 28% of the total number of students.
Such a fact poses various questions for UNRWA with regards to its educational policies, the fate and future of those students.
UNRWA’s Polices at Schools
There are a number of mistakes committed by UNRWA regarding the educational services provided. For example, some students are automatically pushed up to higher levels. This means hundreds of students are being transferred from one level/grade to another even though they don’t obtain the required success level. One another policy which contributes to the decline of educational services is UNRWA’s issuance of a new law which prevents teachers from imposing strict decipline in class. The impact is students are not afraid in misbehaving, being disruptive, and feel no need to complete their homework.
It is also important to take note of the fact that there is the lack of fund and budget deficit at the UNRWA. This forces UNRWA to limit projects and change policies to the detriment of Palestinian refugees For example, the Agency is no longer providing new school books and study materials but instead provides only used books. In addition, the number of teachers has been decreased while schools also suffer delapidation.
Palestinian Refugees from Syria arrive to the camps in Lebanon
Since the beginning of Syrian crisis, Palestinian factions and Palestinian refugees in Syria took a neutral positions. However, things turned for the worse as the Palestinian refugees started to become targets of the Syrian regime. Up to 500 Palestinians were killed in Syria. This has caused a new refugee crisis as Palestinian refugees in Syria began to stream into Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, following bombing of Yarmouk Refugee Camp and after the general Palestinian refugees in Syria became a target.
These attacks have created great challenges for the UNRWA as they struggle to accommodate great numbers of refugee students streaming in from Syria. Despite this, the Agency promised the Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria the best possible educational services to students. This challange presents another question as to whether UNRWA is capable of meeting its expectations. Is it really prepared to accommodate hundreds of refugee students?
Added to this is the fact that the curriculum that was being taught to refugees in Syria is different. So, UNRWA has to bear in mind this issue and consider a solutions.
There is a saying associated with the pursuit of education and knowledge: “As much as you exert you will receive, and those who aim at the summit will remain sleepless at night” Such a saying will only apply for students who live in safety and happily within their homeland. But, Palestinian refugee students are not able to improve their lives and the lives of future Palestinians due to their forced exile.
Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies, Valume 2, Issue 2, Autumn 2012