Friday, August 16, 2013

Back to school soon in Libya - I'm excited!

Ramadan and Eid are over and people have started to get back to their regular schedules. In a few weeks the new school year will begin. This year it's supposed to start on September 1st. Even though it's right around the corner the shops haven't started the big school supply and uniform displays - maybe next week. I want to get all of that shopping out of the way as soon as possible so I plan on getting as much of the stocking up done this weekend. Uniforms will have to come later when we can find them.

The beginning of the school year is an exciting time. Kids will go back and see all their old friends, get new books and supplies, new teachers. But not all children in Libya will face an ideal learning environment. Schools in Libya leave a lot to be desired, even in the capital. Let's just talk about the buildings and facilities themselves: dirty classrooms, many without electricity (Yes! Even in the capital!), broken desks, boards and even windows in the classrooms. Do you need to go to the bathroom? Go ahead.... at your own risk. Don't expect to find a gym, media centre, or even a library... sigh...

Schools here are pitiful...  sad..... depressing.... and I'm just talking about the schools in the capital. I keep reminding my kids to count their blessings because the schools outside of the capital are much worse. 

Some schools don't even exist anymore as they were damaged or obliterated during the war. Some Libyan kids don't have homes or towns to go back to - many internally displaced refugees are living in camps with schools set up in tents.

A tent classroom in a refugee camp

A school destroyed in the revolution in Zliten, Libya

Damage to the University in Misrata from the war. Photo: Reuters

After the revolution the Ministry of Education did a study of Libyan schools to assess needs and pinpoint problems. They looked at 4,800 schools for their survey and reported that:

  • There are about 5 pupils to one teacher (many Libyan females become teachers and are just on the payroll - not actually teaching.)
  • Fewer than 1 in 20 schools have provisions for special needs children and there are significant shortages of psychological support and special needs staff - critical as many children are suffering from psychological stress since the revolution.
  • A mere fifteen percent of schools have one unisex toilet per 90 students - not always functioning, and fewer than 1% of schools had a functioning toilet for children with disabilities
  • Drinking water is often not available, nor is running water of any kind
  • One third of the country's schools do not have a system for waste collection - garbage is just left to pile up
  • Resources in most schools were found to be substandard, lacking in teaching materials and textbooks
  • 40% of schools sustained damage during the revolution and are awaiting repairs
  • there is a huge demand for teacher training and development

Educating Libyan children is essential to Libya's future. The entire educational system in Libya needs a make-over and many projects are underway. Last June the UN signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF to start up projects aimed at improving education and offer teacher training

One promising project that is just getting underway will create classrooms out of shipping containers. Libya has ports all along the coast and ports are stacked high with empty shipping containers which can be turned into classrooms, libraries, offices, study centres, media centres - you name it, the possibilities are endless!

These are empty shipping containers that were being used at a checkpoint along the coast road near Garibaldi during the revolution. Last week I saw something similar in Wadi Rabia.
Tommy Jordan, an American who had been working on infrastructure projects in Libya before the revolution (and who I know personally), was contacted to help work on projects for the new Libya. He is working on setting up these amazingly innovative classrooms. The project will also offer training to Libyans who will then be able to take over once it's underway. Along with the classrooms will be the introduction of technology to keep them running, provide educational materials and programs for teacher training and development. I'm really excited about this - this is something that won't take years - it can get underway in months! This is something Libyan schoolchildren will benefit from and thus push Libya toward a better future. 

They are calling this project: Project Phoenix - the name derived from the Greek myth of the Phoenix, a long-lived bird that obtains new life when it rises from the ashes of it's predecessor. 


  1. The saddest part is that this is a mere organizational problem. A 4 classroom school with all the necessary conveniences can be built in less than 30 days. So much money spent in absurdities and so little in true investment.

  2. Very interesting post for me, thank you. We moved to Libya from the Netherlands last year, and school was a big disappointment unfortunately. We knew it was going to be different (my husband is Libyan), but some things we weren't expecting at all. Our kids are not looking forward to going back to school, they've been home for nearly 4 months! But hopefully things will get better soon, I'll check out your links to see what's planned. Once they get back into the rythm of school our kids will be fine, they are flexible, but hopefully change will happen soon!!!
    Best regards, Henrieke


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