Using Technology in Science Tasks: Reducing the Language Barrier for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Funder: ESRC, Global Challenges Research Fund – £100,000

Principal Investigator: Dr. Yasmine El Masri

Context and aims of the project:

Mathematics and science are taught and assessed in a foreign language (English or French) in Lebanon; not Arabic, the first language of most students. The use of a foreign language of instruction in mathematics and science is a contentious issue in Lebanon and constitutes a significant barrier for access to quality education, especially in deprived communities where students’ and teachers’ proficiency in the language of instruction is typically poorer.

While the issue is not new in Lebanon, it has certainly attracted greater attention in the past few years following the influx of over half a million student-aged Syrian refugees into Lebanese schools and a drastic dropout rate estimated to be as high as 400,000 students in 2014. The reasons behind such high dropout figures are multiple yet the foreign language of instruction was considered to be a main one after constraints such as legal status, socioeconomic pressures, costs of transport to schools, etc. Indeed, Syrian students learned mathematics and science in Arabic in Syria and have not been provided with adequate support to cope with the high demands of the foreign language of mathematics and science instruction. The public formal education sector was overwhelmed by the size of the crisis so civil society and non-governmental organisations (national and international) attempted to fill the gap by providing non-formal education programmes to save the ‘lost generation’ of young Syrians.

In this project, Dr Yasmine El Masri collaborates with a local NGO in Lebanon, Lebanese Alternative Learning (LAL). LAL provides an open access online platform (Tabshoura) that offers interactive educational tasks aligned with the Lebanese curriculum to widen access to quality education for underprivileged youths and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The project aims to address this issue with different stakeholders through:

  1. knowledge exchange with LAL NGO which provides educational support to underprivileged youths,
  2. capacity building and knowledge exchange with science teachers in schools serving deprived communities, and
  3. working with underprivileged Lebanese and Syrian refugee students.

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