Digital chalk for all

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Libanon Digitale Kreide für alle
Report
08/2021

Digital chalk for all

Germany is helping to strengthen Lebanon’s public education system so that children of all ages can continue learning even during times of crisis.

Text
: Olivia Cuthbert
Photos
: Natheer Halawani

Fourteen-year old Lama Al Zein was really upset when her school had to close last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. ‘I was afraid, most of all because I’m not very good at maths. I didn’t know how I was going to learn,’ she recalls. Those same concerns were felt by parents, young children, teenagers and teachers throughout Lebanon. Schools quickly put together plans to meet the sudden demand for online teaching. While many set up complete e-learning programmes, others could only provide sporadic online lessons. Some had no choice but to close altogether. In a country struggling to deal not only with a global pandemic but also a severe economic crisis, political instability, large numbers of Syrian refugees and the aftermath of a devastating explosion in Beirut, educational prospects for the younger generation are bleak.

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Since 2019, on behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ has been working to strengthen the public school system in Lebanon and therefore improve the educational opportunities available to everyone in the country. When COVID-19 struck, GIZ was able to respond quickly and with flexibility. Even before the pandemic, it had begun supporting the efforts of the non-governmental organisation Lebanese Alternative Learning (LAL) to update and digitise the country’s 25-year-old curriculum. When schools had to close their doors during lockdown, LAL and GIZ accelerated and expanded their work in this area in order to make e-learning more widely available and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the country’s million or so pupils.

A shattered country

Urgent action was clearly needed. As early as 2019 and in 2020, many children were unable to attend school regularly or indeed at all due to continued civil unrest. Public schools came under further pressure as a result of the economic crisis as middle-class families slipped into poverty and had to take their children out of private education. Suddenly, the school fees were no longer affordable. Then, in August 2020, a huge explosion tore through the port area of Beirut. The blast killed 200 people and injured thousands. Faced with charges of negligence, the Lebanese Government resigned, and a transitional government is now leading the country through the pandemic. ‘The situation in 2020 was so desperate at so many levels that things just ground to a halt in the public sector, especially in state schools,’ explains GIZ project manager Ismael Nouns.

Learning platform more popular than ever

One solution that has emerged to help tackle this educational crisis is Tabshoura. Tabshoura is the Arabic word for chalk. This open-source digital platform was developed by a 60-plus-strong team from LAL and the illustrators’ collective Waraq, which means paper in English. Demand for the platform rocketed. ‘Before the coronavirus, the platform had around 8,000 users. That figure has now risen to 40,000. We’ve never had so many visits,’ says Nayla Zreik Fahed, LAL’s Chief Executive Officer. Fourteen-year-old Lama is just one of these enthusiastic users. ‘I’m not worried any more. If we stick to the online learning programme, we can find out everything we need to know,’ she says. The platform is attractively designed and provides interactive tasks to make the learning process more exciting. It encourages younger children and teenagers to work independently. The programme, which is now officially recognised and recommended by the Lebanese Ministry of Education, promotes learning through play and fun, combining curricular and extracurricular content. This means that Tabshoura can be adapted to every child’s own level, making it ideal for use alongside face-to-face teaching and other online courses.

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Libanon Loreen Obeid, Techniklehrerin im nordlibanesischen Akkar, unterstützt Kinder aus Syrien.

Loreen Obeid teaches technology in the northern Lebanese city of Akkar. Part of her role is to support Syrian children.

Ensuring that girls receive an education, too

For Loreen Obeid, that flexibility is particularly valuable. Loreen teaches technology at the Malaak Centre in the northern Lebanese city of Akkar, which is close to the border with Syria and now hosts many of Syria’s refugees. The Malaak Centre also provides lessons outside school for Syrian children between the ages of four and eighteen. Many of the children live in refugee camps where there may not be an internet connection. Here, in one of the poorest parts of the country, many families cannot afford a computer and often share a single device with others. The lack of computer equipment and unfamiliarity with the online world are not the only obstacles. ‘The children want to learn, but their parents can’t help them. This makes it particularly hard for the younger ones because they need support.’

There are also fears that the pandemic could make things worse for older pupils. ‘Some parents don’t encourage their children to learn or go to school, so the Centre has a lot of work to do in terms of persuading people,’ says Loreen Obeid. ‘That applies to girls above all. Often, they leave school at the age of fourteen, sometimes to get married.’ The Centre has equipped all 300 of its pupils with a tablet so that they can learn online. To date, GIZ has provided 65,000 devices, including for children in all 9th and 12th grades nationwide. Training is also being provided for teaching staff.

Country Wiki
Lebanon

COUNTRY: Lebanon

CAPITAL: Beirut

POPULATION: 6.9 millionen

ANNUAL POPULATION GROWTH: 0.5 per cent

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX RANKING: 92 (out of 189)

Source: Worldbank

Ensuring that girls receive an education, too

For Loreen Obeid, that flexibility is particularly valuable. Loreen teaches technology at the Malaak Centre in the northern Lebanese city of Akkar, which is close to the border with Syria and now hosts many of Syria’s refugees. The Malaak Centre also provides lessons outside school for Syrian children between the ages of four and eighteen. Many of the children live in refugee camps where there may not be an internet connection. Here, in one of the poorest parts of the country, many families cannot afford a computer and often share a single device with others. The lack of computer equipment and unfamiliarity with the online world are not the only obstacles. ‘The children want to learn, but their parents can’t help them. This makes it particularly hard for the younger ones because they need support.’

There are also fears that the pandemic could make things worse for older pupils. ‘Some parents don’t encourage their children to learn or go to school, so the Centre has a lot of work to do in terms of persuading people,’ says Loreen Obeid. ‘That applies to girls above all. Often, they leave school at the age of fourteen, sometimes to get married.’ The Centre has equipped all 300 of its pupils with a tablet so that they can learn online. To date, GIZ has provided 65,000 devices, including for children in all 9th and 12th grades nationwide. Training is also being provided for teaching staff.

published in akzente 2/21

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