Challenges of Integration, Obligation and Identity: Exploring the Experiences of Teachers Working to Educate Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon
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AbstractThe on-going war in Syria is a humanitarian crisis. Since conflict began in 2011, more than 1.2 million Syrians have crossed into Lebanon. Almost half of these refugees are school-aged children. Education is an essential component of any humanitarian response, serving to provide children physical, emotional, and cognitive protection. Teachers have a central role for ensuring these benefits become a reality in classrooms.
Foundational documents from the field of education in conflict outline expectations for teachers working in crisis. Teachers must deliver academic content, foster social cohesion, and support children’s emotional recovery. While the expectations are clearly articulated at a policy level, how teachers understand these obligations has rarely been researched.
This dissertation investigates the role of teachers within refugee education from three different perspectives, each framed within the context of Lebanon. The first paper explores how proposed global and national-level strategies for integrating refugee students into public schools compare with experiences of integration from the perspective of teachers and school leaders. National frameworks guiding refugee education policy in Lebanon aligned closely to global strategies related to access, quality, and integration. However, in practice, the strategies enacted focused primarily on providing refugee students access to education, leaving other goals aside. The second paper considers how teachers understand their educational, social, and emotional obligations towards refugee children in their classrooms and whether these understandings vary between host-country teachers and refugee teachers. Teachers often decided which obligations to meet, given their skills, priorities, and comfort level. Personal background, professional experiences, and relevant local circumstances were important factors influencing how teachers of refugees executed their ascribed obligations, factors not reflected in global frameworks. The final paper focuses on the experience of Syrian teachers living as refugees in Lebanon and how their personal and professional identities intersect. While global frameworks depict refugee educators as having the power to prepare a new generation of Syrian students, these educators felt powerless to transcend the social, economic, and political barriers constructed around them in Lebanon. Educators welcomed the opportunity to reclaim a professional identity, yet their work often left them with a sense of frustration and loss.
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