Physical repairs, provision of equipment, and establishment of computer and science laboratories are part of a $75 million five-year “Developing Rehabilitation Assistance to Schools and Teacher Improvement” (D-RASATI) project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). D-RASATI aims to improve the learning environment of all 1,281 public schools in Lebanon, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
Public schools all over the world are known for their inexpensive tuition costs. They play an important role in reaching the poor and satisfying their educational needs. The public Elementary School of Aqbet Byakout in the Mount Lebanon region is no exception to this rule, with students coming from poor families in neighboring regions. The 40-year old school building, owned by the government, had never been renovated because of limited governmental resources, and the dilapidated facilities presented a constant threat to the safety of students. Acknowledging the fact that school buildings affect the quality of education and play a critical role in student achievement, USAID is assisting Lebanese public schools with physical repairs, provision of equipment, and establishment of computer and science laboratories as part of the D-RASATI project.
The positive transformation of the school encouraged many parents to transfer their children from private schools to this school and the number of students increased from 70 last year to 110 this year. Ghefran Amhaz, a fourth grader, and his two brothers used to attend one of the public schools nearby their house in Rweisat. “When mom visited the renovated school she decided to transfer us. She liked the hygiene and safety conditions better than in my old school,” he said. Ghefran’s parents have to pay around $33 a month for transportation, but they don’t complain because their children’s education is a priority, the school director explains. “I like it better here; it’s cleaner, I love my teachers, and my scores are better,”Ghefran says.
Children’s greatest joy is the availability of a tent that shields them from the wind, the sun and the rain, as well as the renovated clean restrooms. “Last winter, we spent recess time in class because we had no shelter from rain, but now we can run and play when it’s raining without getting wet,” says Chris Hashash, a 6th grader.
For Batoul, 12, going to the restroom is not a “torture” anymore. “I no longer worry about the smell and the broken toilet seats. Now we have new clean ones”. “There is no water leakage from the walls into the classrooms anymore and I stopped coughing from the humidity. The school restroom looks better than the one we have at home and my classmates and I are willing to keep the new facilities clean,” continues Chris.
According to Ms. Dawoud, although public schools are much cheaper, the standards are becoming even better than the private school and the physical transformation of the school helped increase the capacity to enroll more students this year. “USAID and D-RASATI helped our school enormously and our students enjoy schooling today more than ever. This is an excellent example of what can happen when the right type of assistance arrives at the right time to the right place,” Dawoud concludes.