Right to Education

Education Crisis: Syrian Refugee Students Denied Access to Learning

By: Chiara Carni

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium – A ministerial conference on Supporting Syria and the Region was held on March 30, 2021 in Brussels. Many argued that this conference should focus on the unprecedented education crisis facing Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Before the COVID-19 school closure, only 42 percent of the 660,000 school-age Syrian children in Lebanon were going to school. There has been a substantial drop since COVID-19, with the number now resting at 190,000 Syrian children while another 25,000 who should have re-enrolled or entered grade 1 have not. Fewer than one percent of Syrian children complete grade 9.

Less than half of the school-aged refugee children in Lebanon are in formal education. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

The Education Ministry announced its official shift to distance learning in March 2020. The Ministry announced that it would publish a distance learning strategy in August, but has failed to do so. Additionally, it has not established any clear plans for school re-openings. The cause for this dramatic drop in enrollment stems from many reasons, including restrictions on education. In many cases, refugee children cannot attend school because their families cannot afford transportation or because public schools have refused to enroll them.  Schools have refused to allow Syrian children to take mandatory exams if they fail to prove legal residency in Lebanon, which is required beginning at age 15. Unfortunately, approximately 70 percent of Syrians cannot qualify or afford to provide this proof.

During the summer of 2020, the Education Ministry forced the closure of nine unlicensed private schools. The schools provided education to approximately 5,000 Syrian students, and in return, the Ministry only provided spaces at public schools for 800 students. Two humanitarian groups paid for 3,000 children to enroll at private schools, leaving 1,200 students still unenrolled by the closure. Because of the financial toll COVID-19 has put on Lebanese families, 70 percent of Lebanese children previously enrolled in private schools are now enrolled in public schools. This transfer has left almost 40,000 fewer spaces for Syrian children.

Donors pay Lebanon for each Syrian refugee child enrolled in school and pay school fees for Lebanese children. As of 2020, humanitarian funding has decreased from 1.3 billion dollars to 944 million dollars. This decrease can expect to continue if the participants contributing to the funding refuse their pledges. This decrease, coupled with the Education Ministry’s refusal to run back-to-school campaigns to promote enrollment, has contributed to the education crisis at hand.

An insufficient number of Syrian refugee children have access to the technology necessary for their education. In 2018, donors provided funds to the UN to purchase laptops for public schools. These laptops were never distributed to the students. The import company falsely claimed that 2,335 of the laptops had been destroyed in the Beirut port explosion while, instead, the laptops were sold to private buyers. Unaffordable cost of data, little internet access, and the lack of technology devices have limited Syrian children’s online access.

For further information, please see:

Executive Magazine – Lebanon’s experience with distance learning – 11 June 2020

Human Rights Watch – Lebanon: Action Needed on Syrian Refugee Education Crisis – 26 Mar. 2021

The 961 – A Company Sold Donated Laptops That Were Supposed To Go To Schools In Lebanon – 8 Feb. 2021

Human Rights Court Says Mandatory Religious Education in Greek Schools Violates the Convention

By: Mujtaba Ali Tirmizey

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ATHENS, Greece — On October 31, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) held that mandatory religious education in Greek schools was a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (Right to Education) of the Convention, interpreted in light of Article 9 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion).

The applicants in this case were two sets of parents and their daughters, who live on small Greek islands. Under the Greek Constitution, religious education is compulsory for all students at primary and secondary level.

In July 2017, the applicants had requested the Supreme Administrative Court to invalidate the religious education curriculum for the 2017-18 school year, when their daughters were entering the third and fourth grades respectively. With the new school year fast approaching, the two families requested to have their case considered urgently but the court dismissed their requests.

In January 2018, arguing that the procedure for exemption from religious classes conflicted with the European Convention, the applicants lodged a complaint with the ECHR. They claimed that if they were to have their daughters exempted from religious education, they would have to state that they were not Orthodox Christians. In filing their complaint, the applicants relied on Article 9 and Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the Convention.

The Court found that submitting a formal declaration saying that their children were not Orthodox Christians would place an undue burden on parents. The Court reasoned that the existing system in Greece for exempting children from religious education classes could potentially reveal sensitive aspects of an applicants’ private lives. In addition, the likelihood of conflict wound probably dissuade them from seeking exemption, particularly if they lived in a small and religiously condensed society, where the risk of stigmatization was much higher than in larger cities. Lastly, no other classes were offered to exempted students, which would lead to lost hours of schooling just for their professed beliefs.

Therefore, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, as interpreted alongside Article 9 of the Convention. The Court emphasized that the authorities did not have the right to interfere in the scope of individual conscience, to establish individuals’ religious belief or to compel them to divulge their beliefs.

Greece lags behind almost all of the member states, where such an exemption procedure, or the option of attending a class in an alternate subject are already offered. This decision by ECHR is a monumental victory for religious minorities in Greece as it acknowledges their religious beliefs, allows them to be heard and strengthens their ability to pursue a modified curriculum in schools.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – Greek System for Exempting Schoolchildren from Religious Education Classes Breaches the European Convention – 31 Oct. 2019

Law & Religion UK – Mandatory Religious Instruction Again: Papageorgiou – 31 Oct. 2019

 

Stoian v. Romania: Disabled Boy’s Right to Education Denied by European Court of Human Rights

By: Mujtaba Ali Tirmizey

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BUCHAREST, Romania — On June 25, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”), in a highly controversial decision, held that Romania did not deny the right to education and did not discriminate against a disabled boy and his single mother.

Stefan Stoian, now 18 years old. Photo Courtesy of Validity.

Stefan Stoian, a young boy with quadriplegia born in 2001, and his single mother, Luminita Stoian, complained that two state schools failed to accommodate Stefan and were mostly inaccessible for wheelchair users. They allege that learning was not customized with respect to teaching or testing the curricula, and the variety of therapies that Stefan required were not available. Luminita had to provide her son with personal assistance during school time, including carrying him around, helping him go to the toilet, and helping him with his physiotherapy exercises.

Luminita turned to a number of authorities in Romania to request the support that Stefan needed. The Government argued that both schools had adequate facilities and authorities had taken steps to enhance and modify them over time. They argued that he benefited from some educational support, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, and he was also provided a personal assistant for short periods. Minimal change resulted from years of litigation and complaints, so Luminita turned to ECHR in 2013.

The complaint alleged a violation of the right to respect for private and family life, prevention of discrimination, and right to education violations, claiming that the authorities failed to take required measures to conform with their obligations under both national law and the European Convention. The Court noted that the authorities determined that Stefan should attend mainstream schools, which aligned with international standards. The Government admitted that there were delays in making sure that the school buildings in question met adequate standards.

The applicants also relied on United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Romania ratified in 2011. It acknowledges the right to education in comprehensive settings for children with disabilities and requires governments to provide support (reasonable accommodation and personal assistance) to attain full participation and inclusion for children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The Court held that the authorities had not turned a blind eye to Stefan’s needs, but had apportioned resources to his schools to accommodate his special needs. There were certain issues along the way, but some of those problems had been generated by Luminita herself. As a result, the Court found that the authorities had complied with their obligations, and therefore, did not violate the Articles of the Convention.

The Court’s holding that fundamental rights of persons of disabilities are predominantly a matter of resources that prohibits them from protection under the Convention is discouraging. Furthermore, how the Court reached their judgment is troublesome: the case was downgraded to a three-judge Committee level, facts were distorted, Government’s views were given more weight and meaningful scrutiny was not applied. This case exposes the degree to which children with disabilities are marginalized and denied justice, and they are running out of options regarding what litigation strategies may produce an encouraging result at the Court.

For further information, please see:

Strasbourg Observers – Stoian v. Romania: The Court’s Drift on Disability Rights Intensifies – 5 Sept. 2019

European Court of Human Rights – Romania Took Sufficient Steps to Make Reasonable Accommodation for Disabled Child to Attend School – 25 June 2019

Validity – Romania: Justice denied for Stefan Stoian after a decade of legal action – 28 June 2019