This report, on the Lebanon National Stakeholder Dialogue held in Beirut on 27 November 2018, is the second in the series, and summarises the discussion of the issues, and recommendations for practically addressing these issues in Lebanon. When all five dialogues have taken place, a consolidated report will be created allowing the identification of common issues across countries, where a common approach to solutions might work, as well as issues and solutions that are specific to a particular context.
Structure of Dialogues
Each dialogue addresses the following broad areas, though it is likely that different dialogues will focus on some areas more than others. But all dialogues seek to find ways to improve access to high quality language learning, continuity and relevance of learning, and, where possible, a recognised record of achievement.
- Addressing the specific language requirements of the local higher and further education systems
- Encouraging a culture of commitment – addressing drop out
- Different models of language course delivery in the local context
- E-earning – fully utilising blended, online and digital courses
- English/ ‘Language for Specific Purposes’
- Needs in terms of teacher training
The structure of each dialogue follows the following lines:
- Welcome and introductions, including any recommendations from previous events.
- Panel session: Addressing the specific language requirements of the local higher and further education system
- Language for resilience for Syrian students: Brainstorming and Group Discussions:
Identifying opportunities in language programmes
- Programmatic challenges and needs
- Capacity of the higher education institutions
The session involves:
- Brainstorming ideas onto flipcharts of issues and potential solutions to the issues above
- Group discussions on each of the flipcharts, and other issues
- Feedback from groups with recommendations
- Next steps and closing remarks.
Process of the dialogue and issues addressed
There were 32 participants in the dialogue, comprising experts, providers of scholarships, university representatives, teachers of English, and Syrian and Lebanese students. All took active part in the discussions, and the views of the students were particularly sought.
Welcoming remarks were given by Dr Carsten Walbiner, Project Director of HOPES, providing a brief background to the HOPES project and the focus of the dialogue: what has been done and what still needs to be done. He noted that the language of higher education in Lebanon was either English or French.
David Knox, Director British Council Lebanon, also welcomed the participants. Harry Haynes, the HOPES project lead for the language programme HEEAP, spoke of the 17 partner universities involved in the programme, including five in Lebanon. Mr. Abdallah Chebli, the representative from the European Delegation and the Madad Fund, saw HOPES as a manifestation of joint European and Lebanese efforts. He noted that this joint work helped to break down barriers to integration of Syrian students to universities, including providing language opportunities, not only for higher education, but also for skills and for their future.
Dr Maha Shuayb is the Director of the Centre for Lebanese Studies at the Lebanese American University, and her research focuses on the sociology and politics of education. (Presentation link below)
Her presentation noted that language learning is used in Lebanon as an instrument of marginalisation within schools, particularly for Syrian students who often face demotion to classes younger than their age. This also applies to some Lebanese students as well and is a significant driver of student dropout. She described her research and noted that both Syrian and Lebanese children describe learning a foreign language as difficult.
It is unclear whether language learning is a bigger barrier for Syrians than Lebanese. There are almost 1 million children in schools in Lebanon: about 29% of these are in public school, about 67% in private schools, and 4% in UNRWA schools. The 1997 curriculum approach to foreign languages exposes conflict between home language versus internationalisation. Children learn both a first foreign language and a second foreign language for 5-7 hours per week, but the desired outcome for English is described as “native-like proficiency”. Maths and science are taught in English after grade 6. Evidence shows that there is a high rate of grade repetition in both the elementary (21%) and intermediate (41%) school, accompanied by a small amount of drop out at each level. 20% of Lebanese to go to university but for Palestinians the figure is 4%. A lot of this can be put down to learning in a foreign language, particularly learning abstract concepts in a second language.
At the ‘brevet’ (grade 9) there is a 74% success rate in private schools, but only 55% success in public schools. To deal with this issue, teachers translate maths and science books from English to Arabic, and for Syrian students they offer preparation for other Arabic language medium certificates, for example Syrian, Libyan, or Syrian Coalition instead of Lebanese certificates.
Despite these strategies, teaching methods based around the Arabic language would be preferable as there is limited use of English outside school and limited support in using English at home. All students, Syrian and Lebanese, struggle with work in English and are unable to use the language effectively.
She concluded with comments on the status of foreign languages in Lebanon, and the need for “decolonising” language and curriculums in schools. There needs to be greater definition on whether English (and French) is a foreign language or a second national language that is being learned, and considerable innovation in the assessment of language skills.
Dr Victor Khachan, is Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at the Lebanese American University and Chair of the Department of English. He defined the key issue as around teaching and learning and the academic schizophrenia that these can cause. In essence, he said, there is lots of teaching of English, but little learning. This is because of a lack of measurement of teaching. He spoke of the passive skills of reading and listening, and the active skills of speaking and writing, and how different genres of communication require different skills mixes. However, in schools, and universities, there is no clear distinction is teaching either general or academic language. There is little concern among teachers about whether the material being used suits the learners and their needs. There is little use of language patterns: around the most frequent words used, allocation of word collocation. And little consideration of the forgetting curve. He illustrated the latter with examples from the website www.lexitutor.com
Racha Nasreddinne is Director of the British Council in Syria, based in Beirut. She spoke of her role as leading the development of a cultural relations and long-term relationships programme for Syria, including the diaspora. She spoke from a practitioner view based on the UNHCR research report ‘Access to Higher Education for Syrian Refugees’ and the Language for Resilience report. Students are not adequately prepared in school for higher education. More attention needs to be paid to language and other aspects. It is not only language that is the issue: there are many other factors including: the need to work, limited access to technology, and lack of functional language courses for both English and French. English for specific purposes needs to be further prioritised, as does public speaking skills. It is necessary to get student (user) input when designing these.
Dr Therese El Hashem Tarabey is Dean of the Faculty of Pedagogy at the Lebanese University. She is a researcher and international consultant to the World Bank, UNESCO, and other International organisations, in education economics and planning.
She delivered her presentation in Arabic and these notes are taken from simultaneous interpretation.
She described her research into success in the language component of the University entrance examination using a sample of students, including Syrians. All students appear to have difficulties with this foreign language exam requirement. 60% succeeded in the language exams (English\French). This means that 40% did not pass the exam due to the language component. The picture is the same at the postgraduate level as there is a lack of language support during courses. But she noted that Arabic is also a problem particularly in the use of formal written text.
She noted that there is research evidence which has found that if you do not fully master your own mother tongue, you will be unable to master other languages (sometimes referred to as ‘semilingualism’). Her research also shows evidence that success in English at the entrance examination does not necessarily match the language needs for particular courses. This issue of appropriate language for specific subjects is also evident with Arabic. Graduate-level students still have difficulty with language for specific purposes in all languages. There are always different levels of language competence in a class but in general, the teacher teaches at only one level.
The issues for Syrian students are not limited to language, because the education system in Lebanon is different to that of Syria. There is a need for a new assessment test to identify language differences within a class. But reform in addressing language needs requires broader education reform. She proposed harmonising all the strategies, taking a common approach, and rationalising the approach to education and language.
Despite recent technology advances, language learning was still not improving. She suggested that a minimum of one year’s study in an immersion situation is required to master a language, together with the motivation to learn. But, despite these difficulties, learning an international language is a passport to the world.
There was a lively question-and-answer session in which participants agreed with panel members that students are not doing well languages, and that there is an urgent need to assess the situation and innovate. There was a (light-hearted) suggestion of whether Syrians will need English or Russian in the future. Brooke Atherton El Amine of AUB briefly described a PADELEIA project to teach science to girls in grades 6 to 9. Teachers were given language lessons, and it was evident that they needed further guidance. They used code switching in Arabic to help address difficult concepts. There was evidence that teachers needed further support in teaching through the medium of English, and that the teacher-mentors also needed more support.
A participant noted the lack of formative assessment for teachers: teachers reflect on their own performance, and self-assessment does not inform future teaching. This affects both livelihoods and an increase in school dropout. There was a suggestion that providing stipends to students who attended classes ensures their attendance.
A participant emphasised one of the presenter’s comments that it is not just language that is the issue for Syrian students; it is also the use of a different curriculum from the one they know. It was also noted that career choices for Syrians are unclear because their future is unclear. Career guidance and career planning is something that needs to be more rigorously undertaken. One participant described some 10-11-year-old boys saying they did not want to learn English because it is the “language of the devil”. However, counter-examples were also given where children were very keen to learn English.
During the coffee break participants were asked to comment or make recommendations against five flipchart headings, and that the end of that session they moved into groups to discuss each of the issues.