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Libanon Inspirierende Orte des Lernens
Report
08/2021

Inspirational places of learning

Improvements to state schools in Lebanon show the way forward in sustainable education for all.

Text
: Olivia Cuthbert
Photos
: Natheer Halawani

Najwa Bou Chakra used to worry about her school’s reputation. There were so many problems: the roof leaked, the classrooms were draughty, and in winter they were so cold that students had to be told to stay at home. Then there was the kindergarten building, a ramshackle structure crudely partitioned into separate rooms. ‘Parents coming to register their kids would see the state of the buildings and get put off,’ recalls Chakra, head of this state school in Amatour, a small town south of Beirut, in Lebanon. But with running costs eating up the entire budget, there was little anyone could do to get to grips with all the difficulties at the school, never mind investing in new forms of learning.

This is by no means a unique situation for state schools in Lebanon. Parents who can afford it send their children to private schools. Because of the serious economic crisis in Lebanon, though, fewer and fewer families are in a position to do so. Besides, in recent years the country has taken in around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, including many families. The state school system, already overstretched, has thus been put under ever-increasing pressure.

Bildergalerie Accordion
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

Recently, however, the situation at the school in Amatour, one of the oldest in the country, has fundamentally changed, to the great satisfaction of everyone concerned. It has now been completely refurbished, with a new kindergarten building, modern heating and electrical systems powered by renewables, additional toilet units and new windows. A garden has been created, too, in the outside spaces.

Thanks to multifunctional, mobile learning pods the school can now also teach students in small groups and better address their individual needs. Easels and painting supplies, laptops and projectors – everything is stored in specially designed drawers and lockers, taking up a minimum of space but providing a wide range of learning materials.

‘This is very important for state schools as we have students with different needs and abilities,’ explains Jihane Bou Chakra, who was head teacher at the school until 2020 and supervised the renovations at the time.

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Libanon Die frühere Schulleiterin Jihane Bou Chakra ist stolz auf die Veränderungen.

Former head teacher Jihane Bou Chakra is proud of the changes.

Green schools

Amatour is one of the pilot sites where GIZ, on behalf of BMZ, is working with Lebanese partner organisations to improve conditions in schools and among other things is pursuing the idea of ‘green schools’. Each scheme is adapted to the needs of the school in question. Alternative energy supplies, for instance from solar panels, are particularly important because of the frequent power outages in Lebanon. Up to now, schools have had no choice but to run costly and environmentally damaging generators. To counter the persistent water shortages in the country, rainwater can be harvested and recycled, saving costs for schools at the same time. Measures such as these also reduce the environmental footprint of the schools, a concept that is accorded particular importance in the parallel e-learning programme and is now becoming a tangible reality thanks to the changes to the school buildings.

Learning for life

Measures to create a good learning environment and educational opportunities for all are investments in the future. This is where the Sustainable Facility Management in Public Schools in Lebanon (SUFA) project comes in. GIZ supports public schools in Lebanon as part of BMZ’s Special Initiative on Displacement. With the country hosting around 1.5 million refugees from Syria and struggling to deal with a severe economic crisis, political instability and now the coronavirus pandemic, the Mediterranean state’s education system is under huge pressure. The project is helping to bring about lasting improvements in the educational infrastructure as a way of supporting Syrian refugee children and children in the host communities. As well as helping to develop digital learning platforms, which have proven invaluable during the pandemic in particular, the project is working to upgrade facilities at selected schools – outdoor classrooms, school gardens, resource-saving technology, barrier-free buildings and mobile learning systems – with a view to establishing them as models of environmental good practice and integration.

Contact: Ismael Nouns, ismael.nouns@giz.de

Lessons outdoors

The SUFA project is also introducing novel structural solutions that are designed to encourage innovative learning methods. These include outdoor classrooms, which take advantage of the 300-plus sunny days a year in Lebanon and create inspiring open-air settings for lessons. ‘One of the themes of the project is to learn through nature, so we like to think of the whole campus as a garden,’ says Lebanese architect Maha Issa, whose firm Atelier Hamra is designing learning spaces for schools involved in the project. ‘It is the start of a new way of doing things.’ During the construction boom in the 1950s and 60s, when many of Lebanon’s current schools were built, there was a trend towards large campuses with vast empty spaces. ‘That’s why SUFA is so exciting, because it really brings back that open space as a major component of learning in a country full of sunshine,’ Issa points out.

It is the start of a new way of doing things in Lebanon.

Maha Issa
Architect at Atelier Hamra

True inclusion

At Zouk Mosbeh school in Jounieh, north of Beirut, these innovations are already becoming apparent. Surrounded by private schools, the campus was split into separate plots divided by barbed-wire fences, making it look more like a prison than a place of learning. The buildings were dilapidated, too. And although the school was listed as being ‘inclusive’, it had no wheelchair ramps or accessible toilets. For many years, attempts to bring about improvements were thwarted, partly due to ‘lack of interest from local politicians’ or by being blocked by local private schools, explains Mirna Moussa, head teacher of Zouk Mosbeh school.

These obstacles have now been overcome, in cooperation with GIZ, and the renovations have been completed in many parts of the school: a new library, a computer room and a physics and chemistry laboratory have been fitted out, and wheelchair access is available throughout. There are five open-air classrooms and plans to plant more garden areas, so students can benefit as much as possible from the outdoor spaces. Despite all the adversities, redevelopment of the school continued in 2020, too, which sent a strong message to students, parents and teachers.

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Libanon So ist Unterricht für alle möglich: eine neue Rollstuhlrampe an der Zouk-Mosbeh-Schule in Jounieh.

Making lessons accessible for all: a new wheelchair ramp at Zouk Mosbeh school in Jounieh.

Project in figures
20

project schools are showing the way forward for environmentally friendly and inclusive reconstruction and management.

240,000

healthy snack boxes in partnership with local agricultural cooperatives help establish a sustainable basis for children’s diets.

16

education centres across the country receive support in expanding the provision of digital and other offerings for young people.

Like most other educational establishments, Zouk Mosbeh school had not yet returned to routine operations in early 2021, owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Head teacher Mirna Moussa is already excited, though: ‘I have hope, I imagine the students’ reactions when they see their school and I’m proud that we were able to do something in Lebanon despite COVID-19 and the economic hardship – reducing the difference between the private and state schools.’