Fixing the Schools: How Teach For Lebanon is reforming  education, one classroom at a time

Fixing the Schools: How Teach For Lebanon is reforming education, one classroom at a time

By Nicholas Boke - Teach for Lebanon for Responsible Business

Teach For Lebanon (TFL) has a simple goal: the five-year-old Lebanese NGO hopes to end educational inequality in Lebanon. How? First, by improving the quality of classroom instruction. Second, by carrying its positive message beyond the individual classroom into the participating school as a whole and then into the broader community. Finally, by collaborating with like-minded government officials, school administrators, teachers and NGOs and thereby developing a self-sustaining momentum for educational reform.

The program is the brainchild of Ali Dimashkieh, its current CEO. Working as a Cultural Affairs Specialist for the US embassy in Beirut, he was drawn into work with young people. Exposed to the many problems facing Lebanese schools, he learned about Teach For All, a fledgling international organization designed to support local efforts to train fresh university graduates to work in disadvantaged schools. Dimashkieh found supporters and left his embassy job to launch Teach For Lebanon. “Just after the 2006 war,” he says, “I got the idea of Teach For Lebanon. I tried to find someone to launch the program, but couldn’t find anyone. So I did it myself.”

There’s plenty of work to be done in Lebanon. Nearly half its students attend under-resourced public schools that are staffed by often ill-trained, unsupported teachers. It is to schools in areas where a recent study indicates that as many as 60% of the primary grades students may be repeating a grade, over half the teachers have no university degree and few schools have luxuries like computer labs that TFL sends its Fellows. The biggest challenge, of course, is to increase the number of high school graduates—only half the 15-year-olds in the country are currently enrolled in school.

Teach For Lebanon’s strategy is simple. Using the model provided by the 25 Teach For All member countries (and piloted by Teach For America), TFL recruits fresh graduates from Lebanese universities, trains them, then sends them to work for two years in schools that request TFL’s help. This year, the six-week training covered topics ranging from teaching math, to dealing with ADHD students, to drawing parents into the educational process; this was supplemented by three weeks of student teaching at Al Hajj Public School in Jbeil, in collaboration with the international NGO Caritas. Once the “Fellows” are placed in classrooms (this year in six villages, ranging from Jebrayel in the north to Hasbaya in the south), they are regularly visited by members of the five-person TFL staff, as well as attending monthly professional development sessions for further training. TFL is committed to supporting extracurricular activities, with this year’s focus being on environmental work.

 

Beyond Teaching

Educational abstractions quickly became on-the-ground realities for TFL Fellows. A current Fellow—teaching primary school at a public school in the north—remarks that “I just want to do something for my country. I want to change the system a bit, and I can’t do that on my own, so it is good to do it as part of a program such as this.” Another joined the organization three years ago because “I had seen, as a child in public school, how poverty and corruption could affect education. So when I heard what Teach for Lebanon was trying to do, I decided to try it.” After teaching for two years at Saida Generations School, she now works as the Head of Resources Development at the Sidon Orphan Welfare Society, the school’s umbrella organization. Another—currently studying child psychology at AUB—remarked, “The conditions I saw in my school in the south can be generalized all across Lebanon—many academic problems have psychological roots.”

TFL’s 32 Fellows—with 12 currently in the field—have served 2800 students in 10 schools scattered throughout the country. It works in collaboration with organizations ranging from AUB’s Ibsar environmental program to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s Center for Research and Development. For funding, the organization relies on some support from the Ministry and participating schools as well as Lebanese banks and individuals, and from international foundations and members of the Lebanese expat community. TFL’s five-year plan has 65 Fellows working with almost 4,000 students in 20 disadvantaged schools.

The situation facing youth throughout Lebanon resembles that articulated by a report on Akkari youth: “Many drop out of school to financially support their families. With few marketable skills, they end up as daily workers in exploitative and unskilled jobs in the big cities.” That same report goes on to call for almost exactly what Teach For Lebanon provides: “Qualified teachers.., effective monitoring and evaluation.., prohibiting the use of violence… [and] organizing extra-curricular activities that spread a culture of respect and collaboration” 

 

SourceResponsible Business Magazine

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All, 2013

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