Experts Say Free and Mandatory Education a 'Must' for Children

Experts Say Free and Mandatory Education a 'Must' for Children

Child welfare groups stress need for change in schools

By Jessy Chahine, Daily Star

BEIRUT: Free and mandatory education is a "must" for every child regardless of his or her background, experts agreed Thursday during a press conference at the Holiday Inn aimed at "spreading the word" on the issue's importance.

Jointly organized by the Lebanese Union for Child Welfare (LUCW), the Rene Mouawad Foundation (RMF) and CHF International, a development organization, the conference's attendees gathered several education experts and educators.

Jimmy Williams, regional advisor for the UN's Save the Children program in the Middle East and North Africa, said: "The four themes of this conference: quality, costs, inclusion and dropouts are linked together." He continued, "They are all about access and quality of education, and they all consider the resources we have to fulfill these goals for our children," adding that in preparation for this conference, there had been local consultations all across Lebanon.

Williams said: "Here the people most affected by the subjects we are considering today have made their contribution to analyzing the problems before them."

He added: "Children, their families, teachers, administrators, and community leaders have met in Akkar, Hawsh al-Omara, Nabatieh, Sin el Fil, and Bourj al-Barajneh."

Williams further said "the ideas that we are dealing with here are not solely a matter of increasing resources, enabling legislation and facilitating change at the national level," because "for real change to take place, there needs to be change in the cultures - the ways of thinking - that have led us to the many problems facing our education system today."

To do this, Williams explained, schools, kindergartens and playgroups will have to develop "ways of dealing with everyday problems and the challenges of improving quality."

They also need to sustain the changes and set them as school policies that can be passed on to new staff, children and families joining each school.

He said: "New practices, ways of working, ways of teaching and learning, of assessing and evaluating have to be devised."

Save the Children has been working in Lebanon and throughout the Arabic-speaking region with a document called the Index for Inclusion in the Arab World.

"In Lebanon, somewhere around 40 percent of children are served by government schools. This is a low figure, but not unique in the world," says Williams, "but Lebanon's 40 percent does contrast with Egypt where the government provides 93 percent of educational institutions."

Speaking on behalf of RMF, Fadi Bark said free and mandatory education was "the only way to decrease or perhaps eliminate child labor," adding, "As the number of working children is increasing in the country, the issue of free and mandatory education, I think, should be of primary concern to the upcoming new government."

Fadia Othman Assad, head of the LUCW, said Thursday's conference was the outcome of many workshops held in various regions across the country.

He said: "During those workshops, teachers, parents and children have been made more aware of the importance of free and mandatory education and how imperative it is for it to be delivered at the highest level."