World Refugee Day happens once year, but the issues it is designed to highlight are a daily concern for Lebanon. As the country which hosts the world’s largest number of refugees per capita, Lebanon holds some important lessons. Lebanon almost doubled the size of its national public education system in five years in response to the ongoing refugee crisis, something no country has ever done before. The large increases in primary education seen particularly in African countries in the last decade and a half rarely accounted for more than a 50 percent increase in the total public school population as they were focused on the first six years of school; Lebanon has increased its overall public school population by almost 100 percent.
Recently, the OECD released the results for PISA 2015, an international assessment that measures the skills of 15-year-old students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real-life problems. There is a sense of urgency to ensure that students have solid skills amidst modest economic growth and long-term demographic decline in Europe and Central Asia (ECA).
In Europe, the year 2015 will be remembered as the year of the “refugee crisis.” Hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed treacherous waters and borders to flee war and persecution in Syria and the wider Middle East and Africa in search of protection in the European Union. Transit and destination countries have been struggling to manage the refugee flow and to register and shelter the new arrivals. At the same time, the EU is debating how best to tackle the sources of forced displacement and is stepping up support to Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, who host the lion’s share of Syrian refugees. But largely missing from the frenetic activity so far, except in Germany, has been a thorough discussion of the next step: how to manage the integration of refugees in host countries beyond the initial humanitarian response of shelter and food.
Turkey’s remarkable economic growth over the last decade has been a much quoted success story. One often hears that the country trebled its per capita income, and has become the 16th largest economy in the world. One hears less often that this economic growth has been inclusive, accompanied by reduced poverty and expanded access to social services in health and education. And yet even these debates on expanded social services rarely move beyond quoting the headline numbers to look at the dynamics of change in the sector(s). This omission is unfortunate because the dynamics of change in the social sectors can be a harbinger for future progress. I want to draw the reader’s attention to the unheralded progress in the education sector.