Young Syrian refugees, already faced with the life-changing disruption of being displaced by war, are now tasked with the additional challenge of learning a new language, a requirement of the Lebanese schools they now attend.
Staff too are faced with the challenge of teaching many students who have never spoken a second, or foreign, language in their life.
The British Council is working with schools in Lebanon, such as the (French) Official School for Boys in Lebanon’s Cosba, to help teachers improve and extend their skills to teach languages effectively.
The scheme, named Strengthening Teacher Education in a Plurilingual Society (STEPS), provides guidance counsellors specializing in language education, who visit schools to observe teaching methods during classes alongside senior teachers.
The counsellors then discuss their findings with the senior teachers, whose task is to help develop their junior counterparts. The French school teaches students in two shifts - in the morning Lebanese and some Syrians attend classes, and in the afternoon it is the turn of Syrian refugees.
Nayla Batach is one of the many French teachers faced with the challenge of teaching Lebanon’s thousands of Syrian refugee children. The afternoon classes buck the trend by having a broad mix of ages.
“Previously there was more discipline in the class structure,” Batach told Al Arabiya English. “We haven’t changed the methods we use to teach much, but thanks to the advice given by the guidance counsellors, I’m able to make an informed decision on what level of French I should be teaching.”
She said it was important for students to like the language before learning. Her style of teaching is very expressive - she walks around the class, encouraging students to join in as often as possible. She points to illustrations, which she uses as visual aids.
Her students have a long way to go before they will be holding conversations in French, but despite the disruption to their lives caused by the war in Syria, there is a clear desire to learn.
“I really enjoy learning languages,” 11-year-old Mustapha told Al Arabiya English. “When I travel in the future, hopefully I’ll be able to use them to speak to people in other countries.” He said when he is older, he wants to travel around the world rather than stay in Lebanon.
His classmate Adra, 10, whose family originates from Homs, has a similar view: “I enjoy learning languages. This is my second year doing it, and I don’t find it too difficult. I want to be able to communicate with people from around the world.”
The development of the students’ education is ongoing, and there are hurdles. The school is required to teach all students - Lebanese, Syrian or other - in accordance with the Lebanese curriculum.
There have been struggles as Syrian students try to settle into their new environment with varying degrees of success. However, the school’s director, Mireille Abbod, is confident they are moving in the right direction: “We’re here to support the children.”
She said there was ongoing work to develop the provision of education for Syrian students, as there was clearly a need to look long-term.
“It’s important to provide a normal environment for them to learn in,” she said, “but there are rules. I’m confident these children want to learn, and their parents want them to.”
In an attempt to get them to mix with their Lebanese peers, the school organizes trips and creates plays that all students take part in.
“Education is important for the kids,” Abbod said. “The guidance counsellors will help them get the best opportunity to do so.”