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A Generation at Risk: Urgent Steps Needed to Address Learning Loss in Lebanon’s Public Schools

Dr Maha Shuayb and Mohammad Hammoud, Lebanese Studies


Since 2019, Lebanon has faced severe financial, economic, and social crises that have severely impacted all sectors, particularly the education sector. The economic downturn, marked by hyperinflation and a steep devaluation of the Lebanese pound, has escalated poverty and unemployment. Many families struggle to afford basic necessities, forcing children to leave school to help support their families and increasing the number of out-of-school children. A recent World Bank report highlights the dire state of Lebanon’s educational system, noting a significant decline in learning quality due to ongoing crises and calling for urgent actions to halt the acceleration of educational setbacks and reduce school dropout rates (World Bank, 2021).

According to UNICEF’s Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2022-2023, the convergence of social, economic, and health crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic over the past four years, has led to approximately 700,000 students being out of school, causing substantial learning losses (UNICEF, 2023). Additionally, the economic downturn beginning in 2020 has pushed 1.2 million Lebanese out of the education system. A study by the Center for Lebanese Studies revealed that since 2016, public school students have missed 765 actual teaching days (Nehme, 2023). The pandemic further disrupted education with extended school closures and a shift to online learning, deepening educational inequalities for those lacking necessary technology and internet access.

The social and political instability in Lebanon has also led to frequent protests, teacher strikes, and roadblocks, which have disrupted the school calendar since 2019, leading to inconsistent and inadequate learning opportunities. These factors, combined with the pre-existing challenges in the educational system, have created a significant learning loss crisis that threatens the future of an entire generation.

A recent survey by the Centre for Lebanese Studies shows that only 17% of grade 12 students in public schools feel prepared for this year’s official exams. The survey indicates that 73% of the students attribute this lack of preparedness to accumulated learning losses. Furthermore, only 19% of these students believe that their acquired knowledge and skills over the past three years are sufficient to continue their educational journey, highlighting a decline in the effectiveness of the current educational system in preparing students for future stages.

The importance of understanding and addressing learning losses cannot be overstated. Education is a cornerstone of personal and societal development, and prolonged disruptions can have long-lasting effects on students’ academic and professional futures. Therefore, we conducted a field study on learning loss among tenth-grade students in Lebanese public schools. This study, part of the education observatory founded by the Lebanese Studies Center in 2020, which assesses the impact of the economic crisis on education by monitoring annual changes and highlighting emerging challenges.

The study targeted Grade Ten students for two primary reasons: first, these students are required to pass a unified official exam applicable across Lebanon. Secondly, students in grade 10 have endured significant challenges, including strikes over four years, during which their official exams should have covered competencies from three consecutive academic years (seventh, eighth, and ninth grades). Therefore, standardised tests from previous “Brevet” official examinations in Arabic, English, and Math subjects were administered to 272 male and female students, both Lebanese and Syrian, distributed across five Lebanese governorates (Beqaa, South, North, Beirut, Mount Lebanon).

Two criteria were set to measure the loss of learning. The first loss of learning score identified the deficiency in acquiring competencies throughout a student’s educational years and compared to previous generations. The second identified the deficiencies in acquiring the required competencies in the last academic year (2022-2023).


Mathematics

The study revealed substantial learning losses in Mathematics, whereby only 3% of the sample passed the mathematics exam. The average student’s score in mathematics was 1.78 out of 10. The lowest scores were observed in the geometry section, with an average of 0.55 out of 10. Meanwhile, students scored an average of 2.71 out of 10 in algebra questions and 1.29 out of 10 in coordinate system questions. After excluding nonrequired competencies from the overall score, we observed that the students’ performance showed minimal improvement, increasing by less than one point—from 1.78 for the first learning loss average to 2.37 for the second learning loss average.



These findings are alarming because the loss of learning in math leads to additional learning challenges, particularly in other science subjects such as physics and chemistry, which heavily rely on mathematical skills for problem-solving, data analysis, and understanding complex concepts. Therefore, this ripple effect could obstruct students’ overall academic performance and limit their ability to grasp key scientific principles in other areas, further exacerbating their educational challenges.


Arabic Language

Similarly, the Arabic language exam results showed considerable learning losses, whereby only 8% of the sample passed the Arabic language exam, and the average student’s score in the Arabic language exam was only 2.33 out of 10. Students’ performance was notably lower in the written expression section, with an average score of 0.12 out of 10, while the average score for reading and analysis questions was 3.12 out of 10. After excluding nonrequired competencies from the overall score, we observed that the students’ performance showed minimal improvement, increasing by less than one point—from 2.33 for the first learning loss average to 3.12 for the second learning loss average.


These findings suggested that students struggled particularly with writing skills, which are essential for overall academic success. Therefore, students need immediate support to improve their language skills and mitigate any potential negative effect on their performance in other subjects taught in Arabic.


English Language

The English language exam results were also concerning, with students demonstrating significant gaps in their reading and writing abilities and only a 13% passing rate. The average student’s score in the English language exam was 2.79 out of 10. The lowest scores were observed in the written expression section, with an average of 1.63 out of 10. Meanwhile, the average score in reading and analysis questions was 2.71 out of 10.


These findings highlight the widespread negative impact of the crises on both native and foreign language skills, which could have profound implications for students’ future academic and professional success. The deterioration of language skills may result in decreased comprehension and communication abilities, hindering students’ capacity to perform well in academic settings and limiting their competitiveness in the job market. Moreover, the findings did not indicate any significant differences in loss of learning between males and females, Lebanese and Syrians, students who were repeating their current grade level and those who were not, or between governorates, indicating that the loss of learning is a widespread issue that has been affecting all demographic and geographic groups in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s multiple crises have caused substantial learning losses among tenth-grade students in public schools, particularly in Mathematics, Arabic, and English. These losses pose serious challenges to both current educational processes and future academic paths, highlighting the need for immediate and targeted interventions to help students recover missed lessons and skills. These educational setbacks not only affect student progression but also threaten the nation’s economic and social recovery prospects. The World Bank estimates the financial cost of these educational losses to range from $217 million to $253 million, highlighting the critical need for interventions, especially for the most deprived groups who are most vulnerable to the long-term impacts of these educational disparities.

The effectiveness of current measures by the Ministry of Education, such as summer schools, is questionable due to insufficient data and transparency, raising concerns about the government’s readiness to handle future crises in a conflict-ridden region. Thus, there is an urgent need for a robust educational framework capable of enduring such crises. Donors and stakeholders must push for greater data transparency and comprehensive reporting to ensure that interventions effectively address these learning losses. A sustainable and resilient educational plan is essential to fortify Lebanon’s education system against future disruptions and ensure all students can continue their educational journeys effectively.


Read the full report here.


References


Nehme N., (2023). The Cost of Education in Lebanon -Treasury and Society Expenditure. Centre for Lebanese Studies.



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