Abstract This article examines education policy for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, drawing on 44 stakeholder interviews conducted in March 2016. Findings indicate that the idea of children’s rights, enshrined in international conventions, combined with foreign aid, encouraged the creation of a national refugee education framework that expanded refugees’ access to schooling. However, in local communities and classrooms, where the government’s stated commitment to education must be realized, we find that policies are not fully implemented and that many unofficial educational programmes are operating in contradiction to government policy. We argue that, while such gaps between policy and practice in education are common, refugee contexts present distinct challenges for policy implementation due to the role of international actors in setting policy, weak state authority and refugees’ lack of legal status. We suggest that a better starting place for understanding education policy implementation is to understand the often competing sources of state and non-state authority that affect decision-making at the local level. Introduction Scholars and practitioners alike have long recognized that the promise of progressive refugee policies is rarely realized in full. This ‘policy-practice gap’ has been recognized as particularly prominent among self-settled refugees and those in developing countries, where refugees tend to live in ‘weakly legalized environments’ (Landau and Amit 2014: 534), and there are political and practical obstacles to implementation. Landau and Amit (2014) call on scholars to address this gap between policy and practice by expanding the field’s focus from legal protection to broader spheres of policy. This article heeds their call through an in-depth case study of educational policy for self-settled Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the country hosting the most refugees per capita in the world. Concretely, we ask: what is the official educational policy landscape for self-settled Syrian refugees in Lebanon? And, how are these policies enacted at the local level? More broadly, our study of education policy in Lebanon investigates why refugee contexts make educational policies more difficult to implement. We find that, even though Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has established an inclusive and progressive policy framework for providing education to Syrian refugees. We point to the benefits of this education policy and attribute its success to the effectiveness of both rights-based advocacy and financial incentives. However, we also recognize that the national government’s capacity to implement the policy at the local level is limited. We point to a multifaceted policy-practice gap: many educational policies are not implemented in full and, simultaneously, there is a wide diversity of non-state providers in the educational space. Many are operating in unofficial settings, fully outside of and often in contradiction with government policy. We argue that, because education policy is conceptualized as primarily the domain of the national government and reflects the authority of the state, the policy-practice gap is inherent whenever policy filters down to the local level or extends from state to non-state actors. However, the gap is exacerbated in refugee contexts, where refugee children are viewed as outsiders and state authority is weakened by political crises and faces competing authority from international organizations and local non-state actors. We argue that a better starting place for understanding the implementation of refugee policy concerning social service provision is to understand competing sources of authority and varied forms of legitimacy that affect decision-making. The Importance of Refugee Education Policy The field of forced migration and refugee studies has been heavily influenced by a legal perspective (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh et al. 2014). Since its emergence as an academic field in the 1980s, the field has been rooted in the idea of the refugee as a category of person deserving particular legal protections. This has oriented the field towards research on ‘governmental, institutional and international responses’ to forced migration (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh et al. 2014: 5). Two recent developments are changing how we think about the meaning of refugee policy and the host country government’s obligations to refugees: human rights law and urbanization. First, theorizations of states’ obligations to refugees are increasingly being expanded and re-conceptualized in human rights law. Scholars have pointed to the growing interconnections between refugee law and human rights law (Zeus 2011; McAdam and Chong 2014); international human rights obligations require states to offer refugees protection, even in countries that are not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh et al. 2014). Nonetheless, the new horizons offered by human rights law are still largely oriented to protection mandates, and have not fully explored what a rights-based approach means for the host country’s other obligations, particularly social service provision. Relatedly, the boundaries of refugee policy are being broadened to include new domains of social policy. One of the primary drivers of this shift is the rapid urbanization of refugees. With 60 per cent of refugees worldwide now living in urban settings (UNHCR 2016), the growing literature on urban refugees’ legal status and lived experiences points out that urban refugees’ lives differ significantly from those in camp-based settings. In particular, self-settled and urban refugees are largely dependent on local and municipal governments for meeting their basic needs (Mendenhall et al. 2017). In response, scholars have called for an expansion and reconceptualization of refugee policy and sites of protection to beyond legal protection to social services, including housing, labour markets, health care and education (Zeus 2011; Landau and Amit 2014). Zeus (2011) warns that, even when refugees’ lives may not be at risk, their human rights and needs remain largely unfulfilled. This article draws on these recent developments in refugee policy studies to explore educational policy for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The focus on education is warranted for numerous reasons. First, on a theoretical basis, the provision of basic education is recognized as a human right and is protected in various international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Second, research in the rapidly growing field of Education in Emergencies (EiE) finds that schooling has both short- and long-term benefits for refugees, including restoring a sense of normalcy and helping prepare refugees for their future lives (Nicolai and Triplehorn 2003; Martone 2007). Moreover, given ever longer periods of displacement worldwide, education is a crucial social service that bridges the humanitarian–development divide in policy studies (Ferris 2011; Nicolai et al. 2015). In 2016, President of the International Refugee Committee (IRC), David Miliband, identified educational policy as one of the key arenas for new thinking in refugee policy (Miliband 2016). Similarly, in the 2016 New York Declaration, UN Member States committed to providing education to all migrant and refugee children within a few months of arrival (United Nations 2016). Few prior studies have examined educational policy for refugees. In an important contribution to the study of state policy regarding refugee education, Chelpi-den Hamer (2011) examines divergences in Cote d’Ivoire’s educational policies towards displaced Ivorians and Liberian refugees. She points out that both educational supply and demand in conflict-affected situations are robust and, as a result, there is often a diverse set of actors operating in the educational space, including both state and non-state actors (Chelpi-den Hamer 2011). However, while the Ivorian government played an active role in providing education for displaced Ivorians, it largely ignored Liberian refugees, allowing international humanitarian actors to create a parallel structure for refugees. In contrast, the Lebanese government has been very active in determining refugee education policy for Syrians, and has actually encouraged local integration into public schools, rejecting the creation of a parallel system. There is a need to better understand the factors driving this inclusive educational policy for refugees in Lebanon, particularly given renewed emphasis among international humanitarian organizations on the importance of integration into public schools as the best policy for refugee education (UNHCR 2012, 2015; Mendenhall et al. 2017). Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Lebanon is currently hosting an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, about 1.1 million of whom are registered with UNHCR (UNHCR 2016). This number also includes the 44,227 Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) (UNRWA 2014).1 With a pre-crisis population of 4.2 million, the country has the highest per-capita concentration of refugees worldwide, where more than one out of four people are refugees (MEHE 2016c). Most Syrian refugees live in urban or peri-urban areas, such as Beirut and Tripoli, and in densely populated towns in the Bekaa Valley. An estimated 15–20 per cent of the most vulnerable refugees live in informal tented settlements (ITS) in rural areas close to the border with Syria. Refugee children in rural areas often work in agriculture, while those in urban areas tend to work as street peddlers or in construction. Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol; therefore, it does not assign refugee status to those who would otherwise qualify for it under international law. Palestinians are the only population considered refugees, while other displaced populations, including Syrians, are referred to either as ‘displaced’ or ‘non-Lebanese’ in official discourse (LCRP 2015b). Moreover, residency regulations imposed by Lebanese General Security in January 2015 require all Syrians to either be registered with UNHCR or to have a Lebanese sponsor in order to legally remain in the country. In May 2015, the Lebanese government demanded that UNHCR stop registering refugees. International and local organizations estimate that the rate of Syrians without legal residency in Lebanon is as high as 90 per cent, although the Lebanese authorities have not released this data (Bobseine 2016). Without legal status, refugees are subject to arrest, raids, exploitation and restricted movement. Arrests at checkpoints and raids of ITS have become commonplace since late 2014. Syrians that are registered with UNHCR in Lebanon are not permitted to work, although many, including children, work unofficially. Moreover, Lebanon is a post-conflict and highly sectarian state. Lebanon experienced a devastating multi-sided civil war from 1975 to 1990. With the civil war in living memory, the country is still ridden with sectarian tensions between the Sunni, Shia and Christian populations. Moreover, the civil war destroyed the public school system and, before the Syrian refugee crisis, approximately 70 per cent of Lebanese sent their children to private schools, which are typically affiliated with one sect or religion. Scholars have found that lack of investment in public education reinforces sectarian divisions by encouraging private education (Frayha 2003; Baytiyeh 2017). The Lebanese children in public schools tend to come from economically disadvantaged populations and have parents with lower levels of education (Bahou 2015). They are also more likely to be from the North, Bekaa Valley and the South, and least common in Beirut (Bahou 2015). Given that most Syrian refugees settled in the Bekaa Valley and the North, they were likely settling in regions where public schools were already most likely to be at capacity. Conceptual Framework In this section, we present a framework to conceptualize refugee education policy and to understand the gap between policy and practice for refugee education in Lebanon. The word ‘policy’ is often applied to varied concepts, from a broader field of activity (e.g. education policy) to specific legislation, or a series of related programmes. To make sense of its multiple definitions, we draw on Rizvi and Lingard (2011), who explain that ‘policy expresses patterns of decisions in the context of other decisions taken by political actors on behalf of state institutions from positions of authority’ (p. 4). Drawing on this definition, we conceptualize refugee education policy as a manifestation of the state’s legitimated authority to intervene in the decision-making process concerning educational practices for refugees. However, we recognize that the host country government is not monolithic. Jessop (1990) argues there are many different units within the state whose agendas and priorities may conflict or contradict one another, resulting in both policies that seem at odds with one another as well as challenges in policy implementation. In our study, we recognize that the specific content of educational policy is mediated by many state entities. Moreover, although mass education is typically thought of as a national project, educational policy is increasingly influenced by global actors, such as international agencies. A large body of literature in comparative education has pointed to the crucial role that transnational actors play in shaping national educational policies through both normative and coercive means (McNeely 1995; Smith et al. 2007). With respect to refugee education, Chelpi-den Hamer (2011) points out that, even though the state is perceived as the primary duty-bearer for education, in situations where the state’s authority is weakened, such as conflict, it is not uncommon for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to step in. Indeed, she finds that, in Cote d’Ivoire, international humanitarian organizations were ‘the driving force behind the bulk of assistance and the main decision-maker with regard to matters related to refugee education’ (Chelpi-den Hamer 2011: 81). This finding points to the varied supra-national actors, with diverse political and geo-political interests, that shape policy content. We also distinguish between the content of the official (typically written) policy and the ability of the state (or actors acting on behalf of the state) to enact that policy. Indeed, there is significant treatment in policy studies on the distinction between what is intended and what is enacted (Ball 1994). Rizvi and Lingard (2011) explain that ‘policies are always incomplete in so far as they relate to or map onto the “wild profusion of local practice” (quoting Ball 1994: 10)’ (Rizvi and Lingard 2011: 5). In other words, some degree of a policy-practice gap is expected. In education, a policy-practice gap is common because education policies encounter bureaucratic and political challenges as they travel from the national level to local schools and classrooms. Moreover, national educational policies are rarely designed for refugees, who, as non-citizens, are often seen as cultural outsiders (Mendenhall et al. 2017). In addition, at the local level, there are many diverse actors, state and non-state, operating in the refugee education space, with their own sources of legitimacy and authority (Chelpi-den Hamer 2011). Landau and Amit (2014) urge us to distinguish between the actors involved refugee policy formation and those involved in policy enactment in local contexts. Their conceptual framework identifies the various actors involved in implementing educational policy at the local level, including school administrators, refugee families, traditional community leaders and community civil society organizations. These local actors have their own sources of authority derived from their proximity or shared religious and cultural backgrounds, which may compete with national authority. In Lebanon, competing forms of authority may be particularly significant because many forms of informal authority exist outside the official state. For example, Hezbollah, a Shi’a-affiliated political party, operates autonomously and has developed a network to provide typical state services, such as education, health and micro-credit (Harb 2008). Additionally, Lebanon has an active civil society that provides many welfare services, although these are often provided along sectarian lines (Altan-Olcay and Icduygu 2012). Taken together, the literature points to the need to understand the interests and sources of legitimacy of the many actors, both state and non-state, involved in making and implementing refugee educational policy. Figure 1 presents a conceptual framework to classify actors involved in refugee educational policy by both type (i.e. state and non-state) and level (i.e. supra-national, national and local). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Key Actors in Education Policy Formation and Implementation in Lebanon Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Key Actors in Education Policy Formation and Implementation in Lebanon In Figure 1, government and state actors are listed on the left side. Applying this framework to Lebanon, we conceptualize the national government actors as the Government of Lebanon (GoL) and its various ministries, including MEHE and its office for refugee education, the Program Management Unit (PMU). The box around national governmental actors highlight the fact that the national government is the primary site of policy formation and where governmental authority is strongest. At the supra-national level on the left side, we note that there are a variety of foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations who seek to influence national policy, including donors such as the World Bank and UN agencies such as UNESCO and UNICEF. While supra-national actors have the ability to influence educational policies, they do not have direct control; instead, they typically require forms of leverage, such as normative pressures, financial incentives or technical expertise. Similarly, at the local level, we point to the role of local government employees, such as public school principals and teachers, who are responsible for actually implementing policies. However, the dotted arrow notes that official policies may be relatively weakly implemented in local settings due to a number of challenges, such as poor communication channels or low levels of oversight. On the right side of the figure, non-state actors include international, national and local NGOs and community-based organizations, which are providing informal educational programming.2 The dashed arrows suggest that the government has some, but weak, authority over non-state actors. For example, the government may seek to exert control through regulation, such as requiring NGOs to be registered. In the remainder of the article, we use this figure to conceptualize refugee education policy and the policy-practice gap in Lebanon. Data and Methods Data for this study come from a larger study on urban refugee education that investigated national educational policies and local practices for urban refugees in diverse contexts.3 The study consisted of an online questionnaire of organizations operating in 16 refugee-hosting countries and qualitative case studies in Beirut, Nairobi and Quito. This article draws on fieldwork carried out as part of that study in Lebanon in March 2016. Two researchers conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 44 key informants in Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli. Participants were recruited through contacts with UN agencies, international NGOs (INGOs) and other advisory groups in EiE. An overview of key informants is listed in Table 1. Table 1 Overview of Key Informants Organization type Number of informants Location(s) Donor 1 Beirut UN agency 9 Beirut, Tripoli INGO 16 Beirut, Bekaa NGO/CBO 4 Beirut, Bekaa Teachers and principals 12 Beirut, Bekaa Government (MEHE) 2 Beirut Total 44 Organization type Number of informants Location(s) Donor 1 Beirut UN agency 9 Beirut, Tripoli INGO 16 Beirut, Bekaa NGO/CBO 4 Beirut, Bekaa Teachers and principals 12 Beirut, Bekaa Government (MEHE) 2 Beirut Total 44 Table 1 Overview of Key Informants Organization type Number of informants Location(s) Donor 1 Beirut UN agency 9 Beirut, Tripoli INGO 16 Beirut, Bekaa NGO/CBO 4 Beirut, Bekaa Teachers and principals 12 Beirut, Bekaa Government (MEHE) 2 Beirut Total 44 Organization type Number of informants Location(s) Donor 1 Beirut UN agency 9 Beirut, Tripoli INGO 16 Beirut, Bekaa NGO/CBO 4 Beirut, Bekaa Teachers and principals 12 Beirut, Bekaa Government (MEHE) 2 Beirut Total 44 Interviews were recorded and transcribed using a standardized coding protocol developed through an iterative process of defining and refining codes. Data analysis was conducted in NVivo, qualitative coding software. Major coding categories included: refugees’ barriers to schooling, educational policies governing refugee education, organizational programming and challenges to policy implementation. Analysis focused on three major areas: (i) the official policy landscape; (ii) interviewees’ knowledge and perceptions of the actors involved in refugee educational programming; and (iii) discrepancies between official policy and educational provision in refugee communities. Findings As a starting point for understanding educational practice, we first discuss the official educational policies for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and then turn to the question of educational practices in refugee children’s lives. Official Policy Landscape Syrian refugees began fleeing to Lebanon in 2011 shortly after the outbreak of the civil war; at the time, there was an open border. Given the long history of labour migration from Syria to Lebanon, many Syrians had networks within Lebanon and some were able to access public schools. Through 2012, MEHE was relatively ‘hands-off’ as international and local NGOs stepped in to provide informal educational opportunities in communities around the country. This is not uncommon, as international humanitarian organizations often step in to provide educational services to refugees (Chelpi-den Hamer 2011). In 2013, there was an abrupt policy shift when the Lebanese government decided to lead the educational response. In May 2014, MEHE launched Reaching All Children with Education (RACE), an official policy framework to the Syrian refugee crisis (see Appendix A for policy timeline). RACE is a three-year programme organized under three main pillars: access, quality and systems strengthening (MEHE 2014). Initially, RACE targeted 400,000 out-of-school Syrian refugee children, aiming to enrol 200,000 in formal schooling and targeting the other half with foreign-language, Basic Literacy and Numeracy (BLN) or Accelerated Learning Programs (ALP) programming (El-Ghali et al. 2016). RACE sought to expand the capacity of the existing school system rather than create a separate educational system for Syrians. MEHE opened up second shifts in public schools to accommodate refugee students, with a total of 314 second-shift schools in 2016–17 (MEHE 2017). Second shifts were designed exclusively for Syrian refugees, and existing public school teachers could choose to teach in second shifts for a supplementary stipend. Teachers in public schools, both first and second shifts, must be Lebanese nationals. In contrast, teachers and educators in NGO-run non-formal education (NFE) can be Syrian if they have permission to work in the country, and they may or may not have official teaching certificates. Before RACE, many civil society actors provided NFE in the form of remedial and catch-up classes, homework support and language support. Some NGOs even ran fully fledged schools in communities where second-shift schools are either far away, full or will not allow Syrians to enrol due to community resistance. In 2014, however, MEHE disbanded the Education Sector Working Group (ESWG), and instructed all NGOs to cease their work in the sector until new guidelines were set. It was not until 2016 that MEHE and donors developed a NFE Framework which stipulates that NFE programmes must operate only as a bridge to the formal sector and that any NGOs operating outside of this framework could be shut down (MEHE 2016a). It identifies MEHE as the regulating body of NFE programmes and outlines how they will be developed, delivered and monitored by MEHE and approved service providers, and also established MEHE as the primary provider of ALPs, which were to be run in public schools. Our findings suggested that this policy shift occurred in part due to transnational actors exerting leverage over national actors through both normative pressures and financial incentives. Although Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, it ratified the CRC in 1991, and the Lebanese Constitution states that Lebanese law must be consistent with its international obligations (CRIN 2012). That said, as Christie (2006) explains: ‘statements of rights do not actually deliver rights; rather, they provide frameworks in which these may be fought for and, hopefully, won’ (p. 377). In the case of the CRC, the lack of implementing mechanisms makes enforcing international frameworks difficult at the local level. Despite this, interviewees from various organizations, including MEHE, explained that they used the norms of the CRC to advocate for their policy priorities. Ministry respondents explained how they used Lebanon’s commitments under the UDHR along with its compulsory age bylaw to support the provision of education to refugees between the ages of six and 15. NGO respondents also mentioned that they use either the CRC or UDHR in their advocacy efforts for refugee children’s rights, including education and valid residency documents upon birth. We suggest that these organizations have used a ‘child-rights lens’ rather than a ‘refugee-rights lens’ (UNICEF 2014). By this, we mean that they have advocated for Lebanon’s international legal obligations to children, fully distinct from their legal obligations to refugees, while recognizing that refugee children have additional needs and unique vulnerabilities. In addition to this normative pressure, international actors provided direct financial support to encourage Lebanon to open public schools to Syrian refugees. RACE is supported by both international donors such as UNICEF, UNHCR and bilateral donors. In 2015, the international community gave $61.3 million to MEHE and Lebanese public schools (UNDP 2015) and $260.7 million to UNICEF, which funnels aid to MEHE and a number of NGO partners (UNHCR 2016). This funding covers Syrians in both first and second shifts, as well as NFE programming in public schools (MEHE 2014). In 2014–15, donors also began covering the annual parents’ fee for Lebanese children. Our interviewees recognized these financial incentives as a critical factor in creating political will and incentivizing government involvement in refugee education provision. RACE was widely viewed as an opportunity to strengthen the Lebanese education system. For example, our interviewees suggested that the GoL hoped to use donor assistance for RACE to build new public schools. As one of our INGO respondents said: The government admitted it. It’s totally fine. They said something like, ‘This is an opportunity for us to strengthen a system that was very weak before the crisis. There’s a lot of money at hand’. National political factors incentivized government action as well. RACE was introduced the same month as the number of UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees surpassed one million and general uneasiness came to the surface.4 This was considered a ‘wake-up call’ for Lebanese political officials which changed the perception of the Syrian presence in Lebanon (Dionigi 2016). In response, some state actors (military and security) exerted their authority to close borders and restrict refugee registration. However, this seems to also have had the effect of creating the political will for a formal response within the education sector. Respondents at all levels recognized that RACE has helped children gain greater access to educational programming. According to MEHE, of the 487,723 non-Lebanese children of school age living in Lebanon (the vast majority of whom are Syrian refugees) (MEHE 2016c), 158,321 initially enrolled in Lebanese public schools, 87,608 were enrolled in private schools (MEHE 2016b) and almost 10,000 have benefitted from MEHE-run ALPs during the 2015–16 school year (MEHE 2016c). RACE has reduced the refugee out-of-school rate from an estimated 78 per cent in 2014 (Watkins and Zyck 2014) to 49 per cent in November 2015 (London Conference 2016). Even with substantial progress, it is worth noting that RACE did not meet its stated goal of serving 400,000 students and fell short of enrolling 200,000 in public schools by more than 40,000. Additionally, an estimated 180,419 Syrian refugees are still out of school (London Conference 2016) and retention remains an issue: roughly 7,000 Syrians dropped out of second-shift schools in 2015–16 due to factors contributing to dropout, such as lack of safe transportation.5 Preliminary figures released by MEHE in January 2017 reveal that 187,653 non-Lebanese students (the vast majority of whom are Syrian refugees) are enrolled in public schools during the 2016–17 school year (MEHE 2017). There are a number of reasons why RACE was not fully implemented, namely a lack of operating procedures, unclear communication channels and a lack of policy alignment across government agencies. First, although RACE outlined the basic framework for refugee education, it then had to be followed up with specific operating procedures and more detailed instructions took the form of decrees, known as circulars, that were issued by MEHE. Many of the specific operating procedures and decrees, such as the documents required for refugees to sit for exams, changed from year to year or were changed at the last minute. This led to confusion among school officials and a lag in implementation. For example, we heard of cases of principals not receiving MEHE instructions in time to implement updated policies regarding testing. Additionally, as Jessop (1990) reminds us, governmental policy is not necessarily unified or coherent; rather, it is mediated by many competing interests within the state. Many of our respondents emphasized that the General Security’s restrictions on legal status, raids of ITS and arrests of Syrians at checkpoints seriously undermine MEHE’s efforts to accommodate Syrians in the public school system. One of our UN respondents explains: There’s checkpoints between the camps—many of them [the refugees] cannot reach the school if they don’t have the papers. They are allowed into [school] without papers, but then they’re still stuck at their checkpoint. In other words, despite the guarantees of RACE, MEHE’s ability to implement its policies is limited by contradictory policies of other state sectors, resulting in a variety of practices on the ground. To summarize, we find that Lebanon’s official educational policy framework has helped expand access to public schooling for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and must be considered an important achievement. Interestingly, we find that two mechanisms have helped refugees access public schools in Lebanon in the absence of policies protecting refugee rights, namely foreign aid and normative pressures from children’s rights frameworks. Combined with the technical expertise of educational development professionals, these factors incentivized the GoL to adopt inclusive education policies for Syrian refugees. However, we also note that many aspects of the policy process were driven by external international and national actors and were not consistent across government bodies. While these external actors facilitated the creation of a formal educational policy framework in the form of RACE, there were gaps inherent in the policy that undermined its effective implementation, including a lack of operating procedures, unclear communication channels to local actors and contradictory policies in the security sector. Additionally, the outsized role of international actors implies that there may be less buy-in at the local level, which is frequently associated with weak implementation. We now turn to the topic of policy enactment to investigate how official policies are being implemented in local communities in Lebanon. Local Actors Both Help and Hinder Policy Implementation It is at the local level, in schools, classrooms and communities, that the right to education is actually realized. Regardless of the government’s stated policies, local actors have their own sources of authority and legitimacy, which at times align and at times compete with those of the national government. Our findings indicated that one of the biggest challenges for policy implementation in Lebanon is the highly fragmented and politicized nature of the Lebanese state and society. Local or municipal government officials can disregard central ministry policies based on their political and religious affiliations and relationships with the regional ministry (Frayha 2003). The fractionalized and autonomous nature of the various levels of Lebanese government weakens the state’s authority and means that a policy may either be enforced or ignored. This results in the uneven implementation of RACE across municipalities. One of our UN respondents explains: ‘At the school level itself, it’s actually quite decentralized … school head teachers [principals] can make their own decisions very often, depending from which political party they are.’ This means that MEHE policy concerning second shifts and NGO programming is often weakly enforced. The actors who actively inhibit refugees’ access to education operate within a larger context of general host community resistance to the integration of Syrian refugees into Lebanese society. This resistance is often attributed to historical tensions between the two countries. One of our INGO respondents mentioned her encounter with a public school principal who said: Even though I have room [in my school] for three hundred [refugee students], I cannot go beyond hundred and fifty … I would open up for more but the host community parents are saying they will withdraw their children from this school. However, our interviewees also pointed to cases where host communities were extremely welcoming and where local actors became strong advocates of refugee education. For example, one of our UN respondents recounted the story of a principal in a semi-urban area near Tripoli who advocated to the municipal government, town mayors and Lebanese parents to allow Syrian children into the second shift: They [the host community members] don’t want to see any Syrians on the street basically. The principal told them, ‘Okay but they’re going to be there anyway, whether you want it or not. Either you have children running on the streets or you have them in my class.’ Although this principal played an integral role in implementing national policy at his school, his ability to do so came by ensuring host community buy-in by stressing the mutual benefit of getting refugee children into schools. This example illustrates how local actors’ authority, stemming from their close connections with host communities, can reinforce the national government’s authority to implement policy, particularly when interests are aligned. Refugee families are also important decision-makers. Although RACE implicitly assumes refugees to be passive recipients of public education, many families chose not to enrol in public schooling, for various reasons. The high demand for education among refugee populations has been well established, but often families’ livelihood needs or a lack of transportation options may take priority over education (Khawaja 2016). Additionally, some families prefer to send their children to non-formal or Syrian-run community schools for linguistic or cultural reasons (Hallak 2017). Both government and NGO representatives lamented the fact that many refugee families did not send children to school, particularly in the ITS. Our interviewees suggested that high rates of non-compliance were due to the fact that many refugee families either did not want to send their children to Lebanese public schools or did not know they could. Although outside the scope of our analysis, this point poses an important question about what to do when refugee families’ right to autonomy conflicts with the right of the nation state to compel public education. Additionally, we found that non-state actors, such as NGOs and community-run schools, played important roles in providing education to Syrian refugees outside the public system. That said, we found that perceptions of RACE implementation varied substantially between large INGOs and small and informal community-based schools and organizations. There were many large international humanitarian and development NGOs providing educational programmes before 2013. However, most stated that they had to abide by MEHE prohibitions on offering NFE programming that occurred in 2014. For these large international NGOs, MEHE’s NFE policies were particularly contentious: RACE clearly designates NGO partners as primary providers of NFE in official documents (MEHE 2014, 2016a); in reality, during data collection in March 2016, MEHE was taking over the provision of NFE and requiring it to be done in public schools. At that time, NGOs were only permitted to offer supplementary and non-instructional services including transportation, community outreach and remedial classes. MEHE’s perceived encroachment in the non-formal sector seemed to be most problematic to these large international NGOs. In most conflict-affected contexts, NFE is rarely offered by government bodies, and INGOs’ claims to legitimacy come in large part from their technical expertise in refugee settings. So, when MEHE stepped in to provide NFE programming and limit INGO programming, respondents from international NGOs felt that MEHE was encroaching on what they perceived as their domain of authority, leading to a situation where the interests of the state seemed to conflict with interests of NGO actors. For example, many of the international NGO respondents felt that they were being ‘squeezed out’ of the sector, noting a marked decrease in beneficiaries or halting their NFE programming altogether in line with MEHE demands. Respondents from these large international NGOs suggested that MEHE saw them as competitors for students and funding, which was in part because funding was tied to a per-student basis. They also believed that MEHE blamed them for the fact that MEHE did not meet enrolment targets set by RACE. Moreover, while they recognized the benefits of having strong government engagement, they felt that MEHE lacked the capacity to fully implement NFE programming as called for in RACE. One INGO respondent said, ‘they don’t have the tools; they don’t have the capacity.’ They felt that MEHE was not taking advantage of their technical expertise in programme design, service delivery, capacity building, and assessment and evaluation. Another employee at an INGO explained: We want to also recognize the effort that MEHE is doing. We would like to help in that effort. We would like to really provide our support—technical support, capacity to implement. Research on refugee education provision in urban areas of Jordan, where the government is also taking an increasingly strong lead in NFE regulation, revealed similar tensions and concerns over limited government capacity (Tebbe 2016). In contrast to the large and international NGOs, who had contentious relationships with the government, we found many community-based organizations (CBOs) were operating fully fledged schools, seemingly under the radar of the government. Such schools are backed by a number of disparate parties, including the Syrian diaspora, international donors, the Syrian coalition, Lebanese grassroots organizations and faith-based charities (Shuayb et al. 2014). None of the CBO-run schools we spoke with was being threatened by MEHE, and one principal even mentioned that MEHE invites them to workshops, even though the organization is not registered as an NGO in Lebanon. Although there are no verified enrolment figures, one of our respondents estimated that as many as 100,000 Syrian students could be enrolled in such schools. These local non-state actors seem to benefit from their own sources of authority and legitimacy. They are often close in proximity to refugee communities and have many personal connections. Many operate under the radar of the state due to their political connections and funding, some of which comes from outside Lebanon. It is also likely that the GoL and MEHE do not view small schools and CBOs as direct competitors for funding or legitimacy, in the same way as they view large INGOs and humanitarian organizations. As such, one of our respondents, an employee at an INGO, exclaimed that he did not foresee a change anytime soon: I think that there will continue to be a lot of unregulated, non-regulated, under-regulated NGO service provision of education … smaller or bigger, depending on who they are, how politically connected they are, where their funding comes from. Moreover, although many of the teachers at unofficial schools are unlicensed, these informal schools may be able to meet refugee learners’ educational needs in ways that Lebanese formal schooling cannot. Community-run schools can supplement the Lebanese national curriculum with the Syrian curriculum (such as Syrian identity and geography subjects), as well as offer remedial, psycho-social and language support (Hallak 2017). They often teach in Arabic while catching students up in English or French in order to enter into public schools. They can also meet the educational needs of overage refugees who cannot enrol in the public sector by providing specific skills, through leadership, language or vocational training. In our fieldwork, we visited three NGO-run schools; they were child-friendly and saw themselves as having a broadly defined protection mandate, offering arts and play-based therapies for refugees in need of psycho-social support. Moreover, many teachers and administrators in unofficial schools are Syrians themselves, giving them common cultural knowledge and legitimacy. In contrast, Lebanese public schools are not designed to offer such targeted programming. In this way, civil society has an important role to play in meeting the needs of all refugee learners in Lebanon, including those that have additional needs that cannot be met in formal schooling. The existence of these unofficial schools points to the fact that, even though they operate outside of official state policy, they may actually help meet refugee children’s educational needs. At the same time, it is worth reiterating that the unofficial educational space is highly varied; our interviewees also discussed unregulated, ideological schools operating in Northern Lebanon that recruit children to return to Syria and fight. From our interviews, it was clear that one of MEHE’s top priorities was to shut these schools down, but it was not always able to, given its weak authority in parts of the country. Discussion and Analysis Building on Landau and Amit’s (2014) call to introduce a more ‘politicized understanding of institutional incentives and operations’, we trace the many tensions and opportunities that arise as policy moves from the formation stage to the implementation stage in refugee contexts. First, we note that, while the Lebanese government does not recognize rights of refugees, it has nonetheless adopted a largely inclusive policy promoting one specific right for refugees: that of education. The combination of significant donor aid, advocacy and Lebanon’s international commitments to protect the rights of children has led to the creation of an inclusive education policy for refugee learners. This finding points to the fact that supporting progressive education policies are one of the most promising areas for impact in refugee protection, as every country in the world except the United States is party to the CRC. Despite the fact that Lebanon is a uniquely sectarian and weak state, this finding is nonetheless pertinent to other countries. A number of other refugee-hosting countries such as Jordan, Malaysia and Pakistan are not signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, yet have signed the CRC. Similar normative pressures could be used to encourage these countries to provide social services, including education, to refugee children, in line with their international legal commitments. That said, the extensive intervention of the international community in supporting progressive refugee education policy means that national policies and their local implementation may only be as strong as is international pressure or financial support. Our interviewees expressed concern that donor fatigue will set in Lebanon, and that reduced funding for Syrian refugee education will lead to a decline in commitment from the GoL. Given the fact that international actors often step in when the national state’s authority is weakened, the gap between the international and local level may be wider in refugee contexts than non-refugee contexts. While advocacy has succeeded in creating inclusive national policies, low levels of host community buy-in have meant resistance to the implementation of these policies. Moreover, our findings suggest that, when it comes to social services provision, it is critical that policies spell out operational and enforcement mechanisms clearly. For instance, in Lebanon, we find that the increased level of donor aid has facilitated policy creation, but also seemed to fuel a sense of competition for funding among government and civil society actors. Future research should focus on how specific policy processes create both positive and negative consequences for implementation. Moreover, as RACE is implemented, the enactment of national policy engaged a significant number of disparate actors, including school administrators, host communities, refugee families, local government authorities and local NGOs. Mendenhall et al. (2017) argue that policy enactment in urban settings demands broad support and interest alignment from the wide-ranging variety of authorities who are responsible for de facto implementation. The panoply of actors works at times within, and at times fully outside, official channels to both provide educational opportunities and prevent refugee children from accessing them. We note a surprising irony, namely that, while policies are certainly not implemented in full, the weak legal environment of Lebanon also seems to permit the existence of an unregulated space in which educational provision may at times benefit refugee children. We argue that this somewhat surprising finding is one of the key differences between social service provision and legal protection: when civil society provides educational and protection services to children, part of their success may actually be due to the loosely formalized and unevenly implemented legal environment in which they operate, which allows diverse forms of specialized or unofficial programming. Despite the fact that Lebanon is an extremely weak state, there is no reason to assume that its challenges with implementation are unique. A lack of alignment between the policies of government agencies is found in many countries. For example, findings from the two other case studies in the larger urban refugee study found that, like Lebanon, both Ecuador and Kenya tend to have nominally inclusive educational frameworks, while maintaining more restrictive policies regarding refugees’ legal status, employment, mobility and shelter, mainly due to security concerns (Mendenhall et al. 2017). In addition, weak implementation is common in many refugee contexts as a result of limited government capacity, lack of political will, lack of coordination and resistance from local actors (Mendenhall et al. 2017). Therefore, the case of refugee educational policy in Lebanon offers insight into the nature of the policy-practice gap intrinsic in refugee policy more broadly. First, prior research has noted that policy created at the national level is inherently partial and incomplete as it travels to localized spaces where it is implemented by a different set of actors. However, we argue that this ‘policy-practice’ gap is potentially exacerbated in refugee contexts because the state’s authority is even weaker, as many host countries are themselves weak states, and also because, as we note in the case of RACE, international actors may drive the policy agenda. Moreover, since refugees are non-citizens and often viewed as cultural outsiders, they are also thought to have less claim to publicly funded government services. In turn, it is clear that non-state actors stake legitimate claims in providing social services to refugee populations. In the case of educational provision, we note that both state and non-state actors are operating, often with different roles and responsibilities and different sources of authority. We argue that, when implementing educational policy and programming at the local level, the important question is not what is the official policy, but rather who has the authority and legitimacy to make educational decisions on behalf of refugees? We find that, in many cases, local actors compete with the authority of the central government. Meanwhile, many local NGOs may be viewed as legitimate actors who possess authority from their personal relations, proximity to refugee communities or technical expertise. Conclusion Given the increasing rates of urbanization and displacement around the world, bridging the divide between a strictly legal perspective of refugee studies and the social service sectors is crucial to better ensure protection. This article examines the complex educational policy landscape for refugees in Lebanon, and points to the many ways in which educational policies complicate questions of how refugees’ needs should be met and who is responsible. Social service provision has broader implications for building social trust in refugee contexts. Lebanon is currently developing the follow-on to RACE, known as RACE II. In its preparation, observers have highlighted the Lebanese education system as an important point of interaction between refugees and their host state and, as such, is one of the rare opportunities to build trust between refugees and the state in an otherwise hostile legal environment (World Bank 2016). Nonetheless, we also recognize the limits to the benefits of a child-rights lens; after all, access to education does not equate to protection. Our interviews, as well as other research in Lebanon’s schools, have found that refugees often face violence or harassment on the way to school and corporal punishment and discrimination once in school (Khawaja 2016). Shifting the focus from legal protection to educational provision also presents important questions about the extent to which social services can actually ensure protection. The nuanced relationship between educational policy and refugee protection is an area for future research. Although our study focuses on the education sector, other social service sectors, including health care or housing, should also be examined. Similarly, comparative case studies of refugee educational policy could shed light on the mechanisms that shape policy differ across contexts, and is necessary considering that Lebanon is a unique case in many ways, with a particularly fragmented and weak national government and a history of civil society and private provision of services that may not apply cross-nationally. Similarly, although our conceptual framework conceptualizes policy flowing from national to local levels, there is a need to better understand alternate models for policy formation, including community-led initiatives and other bottom-up initiatives for education provision. Footnotes 1. There are also 449,957 Palestinian refugees in the country, many of whom have been living within Lebanon’s borders since 1948 (UNRWA 2014). There are an additional 20,224 non-Syrian refugees in Lebanon, about 90 per cent of whom are Iraqis and a small number of Sudanese refugees (LCRP 2015a). 2. The phrase ‘non-formal education (NFE)’ refers to a variety of official educational programmes that operate in addition to regular formal schooling, namely accelerated learning programmes (ALPs) and basic literacy and numeracy (BLN). To avoid confusion, we only use the phrase NFE to refer to those officially defined, sanctioned and funded programmes by the government. For all other programming run by civil society, we use the phrase informal educational programming, NGO-run schools or unofficial schools. 3. The study was funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (Grant Number: S-PRMCO-15-CA-1108). The study was approved by the Teachers College, Columbia University Institutional Review Board. 4. In mid-2014, some Lebanese political actors were concerned that Syrian settlements would become breeding grounds for Salafism. In August, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) undertook a military campaign against Salafist groups in the area of Arsal, which were expanding their influence from their territory in Syria. See Dionigi 2016) for more details. 5. Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon (PRL) and Palestinian Refugees in Syria (PRS) are not included in these figures, as they attend United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools. ALTAN-OLCAY O., ICDUYGU A. 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Journal of Refugee Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Dec 2, 2017
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