OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Syrian refugees taught by Syrian refugees: Why it matters

Children learning in their own language, with their own curriculum and with teachers who empathise with the trauma they have been through.

Photo of Sarah Collinson
5 6

Written by

In Lebanon we are working with a local partner to develop education programmes that support the needs of an incredibly traumatised refugee community. We run camp schools that use an interactive curriculum, taught in Arabic and based on Montessori techniques that use aspects from both the Syrian and Lebanese curriculum. This ensures that children can re-engage with learning and also develop the capacity to integrate into both societies.

Using Syrian teachers is vital

We work within refugee communities to identify members who have some form of education and train them to teach. The fact that teachers speak the same Arabic dialect as their students results in vastly more effective communication, compared with a situation where children are forced to struggle with an unfamiliar language. 

Syrian teachers also know and understand the culture of the children they work with. Many have been through similar experiences and traumas to their students and are able to empathise with the situation they find themselves in. The teachers are avid learners with genuine dedication to being a changing force within the camps. Teacher training is not only providing them with livelihood opportunities, but a strong sense of project ownership in educating their own community.

Since the outset of our pilot we have seen children and communities in Bekaa Valley thrive. Children are fully engaged with learning and several students who started out timid and afraid of making mistakes have flourished. The games and interaction with teachers has created a comfortable, fun environment and the children are inspired to excel.

Hala’s story

Hala was about 8 years old when she started attending our school. It was her first time in a class, as until then she had stayed home helping her mother with housework. It took Hala a long time to adjust to the school environment. She was argumentative and would leave whenever she felt like it. She wouldn’t obey teacher's instructions if they didn't suit her and didn't understand why the other girls were so keen to excel both academically and behaviourally. Why try to impress the teacher? What's the point? 

Hala was behind academically and, though she is bright, she always took at least a half hour longer than her peers to complete assignments. Her teacher, Ahmed finally sat her down and chatted with her. Speaking the same language meant the flow of communication was easy and he was able to lay down some boundaries for what was and wasn't allowed in school. He was also able direct Hala's gaze to some of the female students in her class who were doing really well and could be a good role model for her. He could explain about what inspires them to learn. After this time, she really took off academically. Hala now has a real knack for seeing the big picture, asking good questions, and "translating" for others, whether that's helping a teacher explain themselves, or helping her peers understand the task at hand. We've seen her natural spark and confidence shift towards something productive and beneficial for herself and others. 

There are many, many stories like this, that demonstrate how crucial it is to have Syrian refugees teaching Syrian refugees. Consequently we are looking to scale up and create more schools which implement these methods in other refugee camps throughout the  the Bekaa Valley area. 

You can find out more about this work here


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ammar Halabi

An impressive case for supporting the call for local engagement and building capacities!

Are you aware of other initiatives in the region adopting similar approaches (in education or in general)?

Photo of Sarah Collinson

Hi Ammar, thank you for your comments. I am aware of many interesting and innovative education approaches happening across the region, however to my knowledge there seem to be very few projects enabling refugees to teach. With enough support we hope to expand our project to reach more children and communities across Bekaa Valley.

Photo of Kathleen Denny

I totally agree that refugee students should be taught by refugee teachers. What kind of methods do you use in training your teachers? Below is a link to some interesting ideas on teacher professional development. This post has inspired many other posts on professional development so check those out too. I am interested in your feedback based on your experiences.

Photo of Sarah Collinson

Hi Kathleen, thank you for your comments and link. We use a range of methods in training our teachers but I think the most important thing is our relational approach. Our teacher trainer and project team are crucial in this and have become part of the refugee community. Our teacher trainer spent 7 years working in Syria before moving out to Bekaa Valley . The team speak the local language and understand what the refugees have been through. They conduct weekly training meetings with the teachers and use a shadowing technique where new teachers watch and shadow the trainers and more experienced teachers and learn by doing. The teachers meet regularly and share ideas and experiences and learn together and support each other as a community.

Photo of Anu

Great idea! I have seen a similar program conducted in Sri Lanka with great benefits for students in rural villages. The results have been incredible!