QITABI 2 Helps Lebanon’s Ministry of Education Open 302 Public Schools to Prepare 30,000 Students in Summer 2021

After almost two years of COVID-19 induced lockdown, children returned to summer school. Over 30,000 students came to experience the joy of schooling and interacting with teachers and their friends again.

On a hot August morning in summer 2021, more than 50 students between the ages of six and 12 gathered on the sidewalk next to the locked doors of a small primary public school in the outskirts of the Bekaa Governorate. Students walked around smiling, eagerly waiting for 8 o’clock when the principal would unlock the school doors. When asked, “Are you happy to attend summer school?” one student excitedly shared, “We like this summer school,” while another added, “We see our friends and learn new things!”

Right after the school principal arrived and opened the doors, the students hurried toward the entrance, formed a straight line, and eagerly marched into school. It was strange to see kids so excited about going to school in the summer. However, this was not a typical summer nor a typical year.

During 2019 and 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everyone’s lives. Lebanon’s Education Ministry called for school lockdowns. Nationwide, students stayed home and suffered academically. Additionally, during those two years, the country faced unexpected challenges, including the devastating August 4 Beirut port blast, loss of electricity, and escalating financial crises from rising fuel and goods prices, and local currency devaluation. All these weighed heavily on everyone’s minds, including teachers, parents, and students.

Teachers held educationally rich and physically active in-class and outdoor SEL sessions.

Academic and emotional intervention and support were most needed, especially for kids.

In summer 2021, World Learning’s QITABI 2 proposed opening a summer catch-up program with the Ministry of Education. The free-of-charge summer program served students from all walks of life, including disadvantaged communities and low-income families. Nationwide, 302 public schools opened their doors to students in cities, towns, and small villages.

Fighting the hot summer sun, students still came to school on foot, tuk-tuks, cars, and bicycles. Children felt excited to finally return to school and interact with kids and teachers in a familiar and safe environment.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) and the Center for Educational Research and Development (CRDP), and with support from USAID, QITABI 2 academic and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) specialists designed the summer recovery program curriculum for Arabic, English, French, Mathematics, and SEL.

World Learning’s QITABI 2 team provided training to 100 coaches and supported the training rollout to 1,100 teachers. The project’s learning facilitators provided further teacher support by conducting weekly field visits to all the participating schools. Additionally, the project distributed resource CDs to teachers. Supported by the project SEL team, the ministry instituted a daily SEL session to inspire social and emotional interactivity and positively impact the students’ well-being.

A public school principal in southern Lebanon stated, “The summer school represented a transition from the previous academic year, 2020–21, and an emotional, logistical, and academic preparation for the upcoming year, 2021–22.” He added, “We thank QITABI 2 for the summer school program.”

Because the Lebanese pound lost 90% of its value, principals, teachers, and ministry administrators worked for humble pay. Yet, with needed support from World Learning and QITABI 2, all educators put their hands together and provided dedicated efforts to make a difference in a child’s learning and wellbeing in the summer of 2021.

World Learning and Porticus Partner to Strengthen Coping Skills for Children

World Learning and Porticus launched a new project to provide social and emotional support to children in Lebanon. Porticus is a Netherlands-based philanthropic organization that works with partners towards a just and sustainable future for all in education, society, faith, and climate. 

Porticus has awarded World Learning a grant through the Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action project. This new funding supports the implementation of the USAID QITABI 2 project and allows World Learning to build on its expertise in education program implementation with a focus on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

For the “Towards a Social and Emotional Learning Policy for Children in Lebanon” project, World Learning is creating an SEL roadmap to strengthen Lebanon’s national and local education systems. This framework will equip policymakers to shape national SEL guidelines that positively impact more than 440,000 students across the country. 

A requirement of the framework is that it meets the needs of students, educators, and community members. World Learning is soliciting feedback from a broad range of stakeholders, which it will then use to analyze the current SEL programming in Lebanon. World Learning will also create a mechanism for stakeholders to collaborate on best practices. 

“Continuing and compounding crises in Lebanon require novel approaches to enhancing coping and life skills among schoolchildren,” Nadine Richani, regional director for Porticus MENA says. “Programs addressing psychological support and social and emotional learning for children are a critical first step.” 

“In recent years, Lebanon has experienced economic crises and political instability, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut. This has taken a toll on Lebanon’s primary students, especially children from low-income families,” says Dr. Wafa Kotob, chief of party, QITABI 2, and country representative, World Learning Lebanon. 

World Learning has provided technical expertise in Lebanon for nearly a decade on projects which expand access to education and improve learning outcomes in public schools.

World Learning is a global organization made up of School for International Training, offering accredited undergraduate study abroad programs through SIT Study Abroad and internationally focused master’s degrees, certificate programs, and a doctorate through its SIT Graduate Institute; The Experiment in International Living, the nation’s most experienced provider of intercultural exchange programs abroad and virtual for high school students; and World Learning, a global development and exchange nonprofit organization. The organization is now in its 90th year delivering international education, cultural exchanges, and sustainable development. For more information, visit www.worldlearning.org. 

USAID and QITABI 2 Assess Lebanon Primary Students After Two Years of Disrupted Learning

A QITABI 2 enumerator conducts the Learning Recovery Study to collect student learning performance data.

After two years of learning disruptions in Lebanon brought on by the pandemic and other crises, a study conducted by USAID and its Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement 2 (QITABI 2) program shows second-and third-grade students are reading well below their expected grade levels.

From 2019 to 2021, in addition to the pandemic, schools in Lebanon dealt with the country’s economic crisis, political instability, and a devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut, all of which negatively impacted the quality of education and added even more challenges and strain to a public education sector already suffering from severe constraints.

During that two-year period, school closures persisted and face-to-face classes were replaced by distance learning, which was not equally accessible to all students in Lebanon. The lack of devices, scarcity of electricity, and poor connectivity made lesson delivery challenging, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized students. Due to this digital divide, more children from poor households and lower-income families were locked out educationally and fell further behind their peers.

Throughout this period, QITABI 2 supported students through distance learning by providing them with educational material and access to summer school. The Learning Recovery Study was conducted as students prepared to return to school in person and serves as a tool for Lebanon’s educators.

QITABI 2 designed and implemented the study in collaboration with Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education. In April and May 2021, enumerators and assessment specialists measured the learning levels of 2,400 students in second and third grades at 120 public schools across Lebanon.

The QITABI 2 team of 35 enumerators conducted the online study in coordination with principals, teachers, parents, and students. The project administered the Arabic language Early Grade Reading Assessment tool, a short questionnaire on social-emotional learning needs, learning continuity, and school engagement.

The QITABI 2 team collected feedback from parents regarding their children’s learning continuity during school closures. Additionally, 113 school principals and 168 Arabic language teachers submitted feedback through an online questionnaire. QITABI 2 assessment specialists also held focus group discussions with principals, teachers, and parents to capture qualitative data regarding the challenges faced during the 2020–21 school year and perceived needs for the upcoming school year.

The main findings from the study showed that, overwhelmingly, students in second and third grades are reading at a beginner level, well below their expected grade levels. Furthermore, parents, teachers, and principals expressed concerns about students’ emotional state and highlighted the urgency of implementing well-designed psycho-social student support programs.

These findings critically informed the education ministry’s design of learning remediation programs including the 2021 summer catch-up program and the 2021–22 back-to-learning program.

How World Learning Supports Human Rights Through Literacy

September 8 is International Literacy Day, designated by UNESCO to remind us of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance toward a more literate and sustainable society. We focus on two World Learning literacy programs, in Lebanon and Morocco, aimed at promoting and supporting this essential mission.

QITABI 2 Summer Program Tackles Wide-Ranging Needs of Lebanon’s Schoolchildren

By Dr. Wafa Kotob and Rajani Shrestha

Students of all ages crowded the small entrance of Omareyya Elementary Public School in Zahle, South Lebanon looking forward to the in-person educational activity they have not had for almost two years. Even though it was summer, the students were excited to take part in a catch-up learning program.

“These kids have been at home for too long and we are so happy they are finally in the school building and able to interact with their peers,” said one parent.

Throughout Lebanon, 300 public and private schools opened their doors to more than 40,000 children this summer for a program aimed at helping the students get ready for the coming academic year.

The USAID-funded QITABI 2 program, in collaboration with Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education, launched the summer catch-up program for primary school students in grades 1 to 6. The six-week, in-person program focused on young learners’ well-being to help them get back on track as they start the new academic year.

The summer program was received enthusiastically by parents, students, and educators as Lebanon spirals through the unprecedented turmoil of compounded crises — political uprising, COVID-19, economic collapse, and the devastating Beirut port explosion.

Two studies — the Rapid Education Risk Analysis and the Learning Recovery Study — conducted by QITABI 2, have demonstrated the impact of the shocks and stressors that have either amplified existing threats to children’s rights to education or given rise to new risks and challenges.

The Learning Recovery Study showed that over 90 percent of the students in grades 2 and 3 are reading at a beginner level, well below their expected grade levels. Parents, teachers, and principals also highlighted the urgency of taking action to support students’ emotional well-being through well-designed psycho-social support programs. Forty-five percent of teachers and 74 percent of principals reported that most of their students in grades 2 and 3 feel anxious or sad.

To address their students’ immediate academic and social and emotional needs, teachers assessed students’ reading in Arabic, English/French, and math to provide specialized instruction across all learning levels. QITABI 2 interventions also integrated social and emotional learning into the literacy and numeracy curricula, along with standalone activities to promote competencies such as executive function/cognition, emotion regulation, positive social skills, and conflict resolution.

Before launching the summer program in schools, QITABI 2 hosted capacity-building workshops with more than 100 trainers and mentors who, in turn, trained the teachers. The workshops covered the project’s holistic learning approach, which draws on connectedness, social and emotional learning, and inclusion, to ensure that children gain the reading, writing, math, and social and emotional skills that are foundational to their future learning and success.

Participants were also provided with a robust set of teaching and learning materials developed by QITABI 2 in alignment with the national curriculum. These math and reading lessons incorporate assessments that help teachers to identify struggling learners and the skills for which they need help.

QITABI 2 has deployed specially trained learning facilitators, who are based throughout the country, to provide coaching and support to schools and teachers as they carry out the learning program. Areas of support include accessing the digital materials, implementing diagnostic assessments, and consolidating student and teacher data.

QITABI 2 reaches more than 338,000 students from 1,307 schools in Lebanon, including students registered in 320 afternoon shift that serves the Syrian students. The project works with 1,300 administrators and 8,000 primary school teachers. World Learning leads QITABI 2 in partnership with Ana Aqra Association, American Lebanese Language Center, International Rescue Committee, and Management Systems International.

Dr. Wafa Kotob is chief of party and Rajani Shrestha is project director of Lebanon’s Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) 2 program

World Learning Uses Online Teacher Training Expertise to Develop National Course in Morocco

By Dr. Kara McBride

World Learning has combined its expertise in evidence-based literacy practices with its sizeable experience in online teacher training to support a USAID-funded early-grade reading project in Morocco.

Given Morocco’s high teacher-to-supervisor ratio and challenges in visiting many remote areas in the country, the development of online teacher training was already a high priority for Morocco’s Ministry of Education (MOE). It became a top priority when the COVID-19 pandemic began. That’s when Creative Associates, the organizational lead of the National Program for Reading (NPR) in Morocco, reached out to World Learning, in part because of World Learning’s success developing “Teaching Struggling Readers Around the World,” a MOOC on multilingual literacy instruction that first ran in 2019 through collaboration between World Learning and The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

To improve a country’s public education system so that children grow up with stronger literacy skills, a deep understanding of how children learn to read and how teachers learn to teach is needed. During the summer of 2020, World Learning led a series of six workshops with 20 members of the Ministry of Education plus other people working on NPR from Creative Associates, members of the Center of Learning Technologies of Al Akhawayn University, and USAID.

Simultaneous interpretation between English and Arabic allowed for interactive, online workshops on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and task design and assessment for online instruction in low-resource contexts.

Participants have since been applying what they learned in the workshops to the development of four online teacher training courses related to Arabic teaching in primary grades. The course on teaching reading is currently in the pilot stage.

Since the workshops, World Learning has provided coaching to the online training designers from the education ministry and the Center of Learning Technologies. This support has covered a range of topics, including graphic design, course navigation, and classroom scenario filming, in addition to regular review cycles of content and design.

Just as the reading course was going into piloting, Abdellatif Fergoug of The Ministry of National Education, Higher Education, Staff Training, and Scientific Research wrote, “I reiterate my thanks for the time you have devoted to consulting [on] this course and for the excellent quality of your comments.”

Morocco’s education ministry expects to roll out NPR’s early-grade reading online teacher training course nationwide shortly after the current pilot is completed. The target population includes 98,500 public primary school Arabic teachers and more than 3 million students. In addition to addressing in-service teacher training, the online teaching modules will be used in pre-service teacher training. In this way, the ministry plans to ensure that all teachers have access to the best methods for teaching literacy to young learners.

Dr. Kara McBride is a senior education specialist with World Learning.

USAID-funded QITABI 2 Program Adapts to Needs of Lebanon’s Education Sector

Primary students during the school’s morning break at the Maarouf Saad School. The school is located in Sidon, a coastal city South of Lebanon.

Lebanon’s education sector has struggled to overcome numerous challenges over the past two years, including an unstable political environment, disruptive street protests, dramatic devaluation of the Lebanese lira, and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced an abrupt shift to online schooling.

To meet these new demands, USAID has adapted the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) 2 program to dynamically address the education sector’s changing needs and support the move to distance learning.

Mahmoud in his grade 6 classroom at Maarouf Saad School.

The program embraces USAID’s longstanding commitment to the sustainable development of Lebanon’s education sector. It is a successor to QITABI 1, which was in place from 2014 to 2019. Both programs aim to strengthen the quality of education in Lebanon. They support the development of the sector’s leading stakeholders: the Ministry of Education, the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD), primary schools, administrators, teachers, and students across Lebanon, including remote areas, under-resourced communities, and Syrian refugees.

QITABI 2 introduced new activities that included curriculum-aligned e-content, training teachers to create effective online teaching and learning environments, and distributing educational kits to keep more than 174,000 students engaged in learning while at home.

Maarouf Saad public school is one of the institutions that has benefitted from QITABI’s two programs. Located in south Lebanon, the school has 120 teachers and more than 2,000 students, of which 750 attend during the afternoon shift. Saadiah Basouni, the school principal, states, “The QITABI program trained teachers, equipped primary classes with IT equipment and supplied classroom libraries. It supported the school in modernizing its teaching and learning environment.”

The school’s IT teacher, Emtithal AlSkafi, says, “Teachers face a difficult challenge in effectively teaching online. We were able to overcome this challenge through QITABI 2’s online training and support. I developed my skills and techniques of teaching and interacting with students online.”

USAID-funded QITABI & QITABI 2 Activities

  • Installed 3,607 IT classroom models in 524 public schools
  • Distributed 630,000 leveled books to 894 schools, Grades 1 to 6
  • Supported training and coaching for 2,000 Arabic language teachers on the Balanced Literacy Approach
  • Supported training of 1,800 teachers on Educational Technology
  • Distributed educational boxes to 174,000 students through 887 schools
  • Designed and launched distance learning trainings for more than 7,500 trainers, coaches, and teachers

How Lebanon’s Arabic Language Teachers Use Read-Aloud Sessions to Instill a Love of Reading

A woman in a white shirt and yellow cardigan stands looking at the camera in a classroom.
First-grade Arabic language teacher Mary Bou-Rached.

At Jezzine Primary School in the mountains of south Lebanon, first-grade Arabic language teacher Mary Bou-Rached holds weekly read-aloud sessions for students. She picks two students every week to read stories and ask their classmates comprehension questions.

With 186 students, Jezzine Primary School is one of 887 primary public schools in Lebanon receiving support from USAID’s education sector programs Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) 1 and 2. The school is among 30 inclusive schools selected by Lebanon’s Ministry of Education to provide tailored support to students with special educational needs.

“The read-aloud sessions invite students to express themselves, interact with other students, and actively participate during class,” says Bou-Rached. “I was surprised and pleased to see that struggling readers jumped at the opportunity to read aloud during class.”

To ensure that each primary student receives the support needed to improve their reading skills, USAID has furnished a library inside each classroom. Each library includes read-aloud books and leveled reading books selected by experts to address all reading levels.

QITABI’s literacy specialists say reading aloud is important for reading success. It provides children with a demonstration of reading fluency, builds the listeners’ interest in books, and improves comprehension skills. Reading aloud encourages children from an early age to adopt reading as a lifelong learning activity.

“My students look forward every week to participate in the read-aloud sessions,” says Olga El Helou, a second-and third-grade Arabic language teacher at Jezzine Primary School. “They love to pick storybooks from QITABI’s classroom library and play the role of the storyteller in reading aloud to their classmates.”

A boy sits in front of his class reading a book to a group of children wearing masks.

Under the QITABI 2 program, each classroom also received a set of interactive e-storybooks that give students the opportunity to hear correct pronunciation by native and professional speakers.

USAID provides well-rounded teacher support that ensures Arabic language teachers follow international best practices. The support consists of teacher training on a balanced literacy approach, coaching by trained mentors that observe teachers during classroom sessions, and in-school support by trained learning facilitators.

In collaboration with Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and the Center for Educational Research and Development, the USAID QITABI program impacts the literacy and numeracy teaching and learning environments for more than 338,000 primary school students in grades 1 to 6.

USAID is offering the resources that Arabic language teachers need for reading success. Thus far, QITABI has provided more than 5,000 classroom libraries, with a total of more than 550,000 leveled reading books, 75,000 read-aloud books, and 25,000 e-stories.

Scenario Planning for Unstable Environments

Three people stand around an easel. Two point two it as a third stands poised to write something with a marker.
QITABI 2 staff in Lebanon using USAID’s Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting Maturity Tool during an adaptive management workshop.

This story was originally published on USAID’s Learning Lab blog. It has been republished here with permission.

By Wafa Kotob, Chief of Party for World Learning in Lebanon, and Rajani Shrestha, Project Director, QITABI

In fall 2019, social, political, and economic instability in Lebanon began creating serious challenges for our team working on the USAID-funded Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) 2 program. We needed to devise an adaptive management strategy that would allow us to quickly respond to rapidly changing circumstances and still achieve our program goals of improving primary education for more than 300,000 children across the country.

To deal with these challenges, we created a scenario planning tool, which would enable us to better understand the situation on the ground, make calculated forecasts, and prepare for unpredictable future events. Utilizing the Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) approach, we developed the tool with USAID and program partners during a two-day workshop in January 2020. We used a four-step facilitated participatory process, which included participatory reflection, identifying context indicators, a scenario planning exercise, and creating a pathway to implementation.

Participatory Reflection

We began by conducting a self-assessment exercise using the CLA maturity tool for scenario planning, pause and reflect, and adaptive management. As a team, we gained deeper understanding of CLA in the Program Cycle and collectively reflected on how we were already using the approach. The exercise helped us reflect on how we could intentionally integrate it into our work.

Identifying Context Indicators

Then, we identified important context indicators to help us recognize trends and other factors that could offer early warnings of potential changes. The critical external influences included political, economic, security, and environmental/health conditions, as well as government ministries’ adoption capacity. We then reviewed the status of each influential factor over the past six months to assess changes and trace a pattern.

Scenario Planning Exercise

Next, we conducted a scenario planning exercise, using the identified external factors. We determined that the two most influential factors were political and social conditions. From there, we created a 2×2 matrix describing four major potential scenarios based on the security or insecurity of those conditions:

1) limited learning (stable social conditions, but unstable political conditions)

2) expanding education (stable political and social conditions)

3) shaky schooling (stable political conditions, but unstable social conditions)

4) closed classrooms (unstable political and social conditions)

A graphic with four squares showing the options for how to proceed in stable/unstable and secure/insecure political and social conditions in Lebanon.

The matrix provides a simple and powerful visual to capture various situations we might encounter.

Creating a Pathway to Implementation

The final step was identifying all pathways to implementation that would allow us to achieve the program’s objectives within the new environment. This included discussing opportunities and threats for each scenario as well as which activities could still be attempted, and which should be paused or avoided. Using this tool, we have been able to preemptively explore alternative courses of action so we can be proactive and fully prepared to change course if the situation deteriorates.

Although we didn’t realize it, our new scenario prediction tool would soon be put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic. Using our adaptive management plan, we were able to successfully pivot within a matter of weeks. We quickly submitted a contingency plan to USAID with a new scenario and activities adapted to the new context.

Because of this work, throughout the pandemic, we have been able to provide vital support to students, teachers, and schools, so that children can continue learning even if schools are closed.

How QITABI 2 Helped Teachers and Students Successfully Transition to Distance Learning

Ongoing teacher training is a key component of any educational improvement initiative. In Lebanon, the Ministry of Education and the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) are responsible for training the country’s public school teachers. Each year, CERD offers training to more than 25,000 public school teachers in its 33 centers across Lebanon, from urban centers to rural areas.

In 2020, all education and training had to transition online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the urgent and sudden shift to distance learning, one of the highest emerging priorities at the Ministry of Education and CERD was equipping Lebanon’s teachers with online teaching skills. However, the country’s economic instability and lack of resources at the Ministry and CERD made this challenging. Educators needed assistance to make the needed transition to distance learning. This is where the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) 2 program, funded by USAID, stepped in.

A woman in a dark blue blazer with a white shirt and scarf around her neck stands facing the camera. A banner in Arabic and French is behind her to the right.
Grace Sawwan, director of educational IT at CERD.

Through QITABI 2, USAID provided distance learning training to 102 academic experts and trainers at CERD. Grace Sawwan, the director of educational IT at CERD, expressed her appreciation of the training, which would allow her team to support teachers through the transition. “We will, in return, pass on this newly acquired knowledge to the education sector in Lebanon,” Sawwan said.

In collaboration with the Ministry and CERD, QITABI 2 is also rolling out similar training for more than 7,400 teachers, thereby improving distance learning for more than159,000 primary public students in 887 schools across Lebanon.

QITABI 2 also offers comprehensive technical assistance to CERD, including training educators, developing online lessons and training materials, upgrading digital learning platforms, and modernizing its 33 training centers.

A woman in a green sweater stands facing the camera with her hands clasped in front of her. A banner in Arabic and Englishis behind her to the left.
Lore Issa, director of geography at CERD.

One of the trainees, Lore Issa, director of geography at CERD, said she learned how to use different tools, such as Google Drive, to support distance learning and engagement with students. In addition, Issa said she and her colleagues built an understanding of best practices in distance learning.

“Besides equipping us with online teaching skills, we also learned about the importance of online learning protocols for educators and students,” she said.

How One Student in Lebanon is Benefiting from QITABI 2’s Educational Boxes

A young girl holds up her marker after writing in Arabic on a sheet of paper on the table in front of her.
Krysta practices writing using the supplies in the educational box she received from QTIABI 2.

Zahle, Lebanon, is home to more than 7,000 students in public primary schools, including eight-year-old Krysta Al Arjaa, who attends the New Zahle School and is the youngest of four children.

Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools, universities and many other sectors to move classes and operations online. In Lebanon, already contending with an economic crisis, the situation was no different. The country endured several lockdowns to contain the virus’ spread, which impacted livelihoods, businesses and education. At the start of the pandemic, Krysta’s school moved to online learning and although she is tech-savvy, studying online has still been a challenge.

Funded by USAID and implemented by World Learning, the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) 2 activity supports primary school students like Krysta during the pandemic. As part of this initiative, QITABI 2 Krysta received an educational box, which contained reading books based on reading levels, math manipulatives and stationary. “We are so happy to receive the educational box,” her mother, Fabiola, said.

Fabiola added that her daughter was overjoyed with the reading and math materials from USAID. “Amazingly, Krysta has read the storybooks so many times that she can now recite them!” she said. “Krysta also used the box’s materials to help her in completing school assignments for math.”

A young girl opens a box of educational supplies.
Krysta reviews the contents of the educational box.

The educational boxes have been distributed to all 148,200 students in Lebanese primary public schools and are designed to improve students’ engagement in learning while at home. An additional 56,000 boxes will be distributed to new students in public schools, as well as students in low-cost, faith-based private schools across Lebanon this year.

Through QITABI 2, USAID has also developed and posted hundreds of free online resources, including lessons, animated social and emotional learning activities and e-stories targeting primary school students. The resources all align with the Lebanese curriculum and the national distance learning initiative and aim to help students advance their education during the pandemic.

If you would like to help provide support for children like Krysta, visit our donate page.

USAID Selects World Learning to Support Systems Strengthening for All Public Primary Schools in Lebanon

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded World Learning the $90 million Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement 2 (QITABI 2) project in Lebanon. The goal of QITABI 2 is to improve the reading, writing, and social and emotional learning skills of girls and boys in public primary schools throughout the country. The project aims to support more than 300,000 girls and boys, including Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon.

 “This is an incredible opportunity for the education sector in Lebanon,” said Dr. Wafa Kotob, World Learning’s chief of party for the project. “QITABI 2 has been designed to spearhead the country’s critically needed National Educational Reform and will help expand access to a high quality education for hundreds of thousands of children.”

QITABI 2 will be implemented across all eight governorates and is the culmination of USAID’s fifteen years of investment in Lebanon’s public education sector. As such, it will build upon the successes of previous programs, including the Developing Rehabilitation Assistance to Schools and Teacher Improvement 2 (D-RASATI 2) and QITABI 1 programs, both implemented by World Learning.  

D-RASATI 2 and QITABI 1 established a foundation of evidence-based educational interventions that show great promise with schools, teachers and students throughout Lebanon. QITABI 2 will improve these services and weave together best practices from the predecessor projects to improve reading, writing, and math outcomes at hundreds of schools across Lebanon.

In close coordination with the USAID mission in Lebanon, World Learning will continue to work closely with the Government of Lebanon to scale and sustain interventions by strengthening the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s overall institutional capacity. This will ensure that reading, writing, numeracy, and social and emotional learning gains are institutionalized, built-on, and sustained through targeted organizational capacity development and policy reforms. Ana Aqra, American Language Learning Center, International Rescue Committee, and Management Systems International are World Learning’s partners under QITABI 2.

Q&A: World Learning’s Deepa Srikantaiah on How to Create Disability-Inclusive Classrooms

Everyone has their own way of learning. Some students learn better through lectures, while others need visual cues. Some can best solve math problems with a pencil and paper, while others use manipulatives like blocks or coins. Some students are blind and need books in Braille, while others are deaf and learn better with instruction in sign language.

World Learning has long worked to ensure all children have access to a high-quality education — including children with disabilities. This year, we are deepening our commitment to disability-inclusive education by integrating the University Design for Learning (UDL), a framework that regards all students as different kinds of learners, into our global education programming.

World Learning Senior Education and Research Specialist Deepa Srikantaiah.

But what exactly will that mean for our programs in Lebanon, Pakistan, and beyond? In the following interview, World Learning Senior Education and Research Specialist Deepa Srikantaiah explains how the UDL model works and shares how World Learning will use it to create flexible learning environments that accommodate the learning differences of all children.

To begin, how have educational systems failed learners with disabilities?

I think the biggest problem is providing access to school. Families themselves tend to protect their children with disabilities. If they send their children to school they may question: will they be accepted, will they not fall behind, will they be kicked out, will they drop out? If a student is blind, for example, are there resources and support available for the student to learn reading in Braille? In a lot of communities, parents are not given that information or that security.

We’re trying to expand the way that we think about people.

Within the classroom there is also not enough support or resources for teachers to instruct all students. So if a child with a disability goes to school, teachers might be hesitant to teach them. Or a child can have a learning disability, which is often not transparent to the teacher and therefore goes undiagnosed. I’ve seen teachers in many countries say that students look like they are not pay attention in class are “slow learners” or “not smart enough” to keep up with the rest of the class.

Why is inclusion important to World Learning?

We believe in social inclusion. We’ve created the TAAP Toolkit (Transforming Agency, Access, and Power), where we’re working with communities around the world to make sure they are much more inclusive and providing a framework for development practitioners to ensure their work amplifies the voices and advances the rights of all people. So I think in practice we are already working toward a very inclusive environment through our work as well in our office.

It’s just the nature of World Learning. We started out doing international exchanges like The Experiment in International Living. Those exchanges are all about getting out of your comfort zone, going to a different country, and learning different cultures and customs. In a way, that’s how we start the dialogue around inclusion, right? We’re trying to expand the way that we think about people. Not everybody is going to look the way we look, or think the way we think, or even work the way we work.

Why does disability-inclusive education matter in our work?

In Lebanon, for example, as we move into the second phase of the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) program we’ll be working with 913 public schools. That is all of the schools in the country.

UDL trains teachers to go into a classroom with the mindset that every single one of their students learns differently.

When we work with all the schools in the country, we’ll be reaching every single student from grades 1 to 6. We’ll encounter students who have disabilities who may not respond to the material in the same way as their peers do. But there are certain principles we can implement in the classroom that can encourage more students to come to school or stay in school. So we’re hoping that we really reach all students, that all children are educated.

How does Universal Design for Learning help educators reach all students?

When UDL was first developed, it was for students with disabilities and gifted students. When it was actually implemented it in the classroom, we found out that all the students benefited from it because we’re all different learners. You might be a visual learner; I might be an auditory learner. We grasp information in different ways.

There is no one way to learn.

UDL trains teachers to go into a classroom with the mindset that every single one of their students learns differently. It removes barriers to education because the teachers are equipped with the tools and strategies to reach all types of learners before they start teaching.

A UDL classroom itself is designed from the start to be inclusive because the curriculum is designed that way — students have different resources they can use to learn, teachers are equipped with teaching strategies to work with all students, and peers get to interact and learn from each other. So you’re creating a classroom environment that’s already prepped in the beginning. For example, a student who is non-verbal or has complex communication needs would have the appropriate resources to express themselves. These resources can include assistive technologies such as a tablet.

What are some of the strategies for different types of learning in UDL?

In math, for example, when students are solving the problem, oftentimes they think there’s only one way to solve a problem. But allowing students to explore different ways of solving problems is a way of incorporating different learning styles. This is referred to as multiple means of expression. Some students might want to use manipulatives. Some students might want to go straight to pencil and paper and diagram out the solution process. And other students might want to talk through the solution with their peers. But providing that kind of environment for students really helps.

We figure out ways that work best for us when we’re studying, right? Our teachers present us these strategies and then we gravitate toward things that work best for us. Acknowledging that and encouraging the student to learn that way is important. There is no one way to learn. We have to appreciate the diversity of learning in the classroom. So that’s really what UDL is about.

Why does World Learning embrace Universal Design for Learning?

We’ve started work on “inclusion,” and as we do more work on disability inclusion, I think it’s a great way to change the culture of teaching and learning. When you start designing curriculum, when you start designing lesson plans, and designing teacher training, starting with principles of UDL, you’re already creating that culture shift. You’re making the classroom a lot more inclusive and you’re ensuring that you’re meeting every different type of learner in the classroom and that every child is succeeding.

What are the other elements of World Learning’s approach to disability-inclusive education?

A lot of it is raising community awareness. We definitely need to improve the quality of instruction in the classroom so that all students are included, but also it’s important to raise the awareness at the community level, to ensure that parents understand that if they do send their kid to a school that they will get a good quality education. They won’t be left behind or drop out.

When students grow up in diverse classrooms and see that all students do not learn information the same way — and that’s okay — it really changes your perspective on the world.

It’s also raising awareness in communities and supporting parents so that their children with disabilities can stay at home, grow up in the community they were born in, and attend the local school.In many countries, we see children being sent awayto “boarding schools” because the local school or community thinks they cannot support the child. There’s no reason to isolate children that way. Let them live with their family, community, and peers.

How can World Learning use the principles of UDL in its global education projects?

In QITABI 2, for example, we have an opportunity to incorporate UDL principles from the start of the project — everything from teacher training to teaching and learning materials. Considering that Lebanon is a post-conflict country, many students may be coming into the classroom with emotional and behavioral disabilities. For these students, classrooms need to be safe environments and material should be presented in multiple ways and many times for students to best process it. These are strategies that can incorporated in the teacher training programs.

So what are the long-term benefits of investing in disability-inclusive education now?

One of the most important things about creating inclusive classrooms from the very beginning is that the students our projects are targeting are going to be working together 25 years from now. If someone who is blind, or has dyslexia, or is a visual learner as opposed to an auditory learner joins our office, because of the experience of going to school with all our peers, we will be able to better work with different kinds of people.

I think when students grow up in diverse classrooms and see that all students do not learn information the same way — and that’s okay — it really changes your perspective on the world. We can be in a much more inclusive world, and we can live and work together. We can appreciate everyone as contributing to society.

Alumni Voices: Carla Gurunian

How studying at a U.S. university helped her pursue new opportunities and build friendships across cultures

What is it like to travel across the world to study at a U.S. university? Every year, hundreds of young people from countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe find out firsthand as participants in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD).

Since 2008, World Learning has administered Global UGRAD, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government. This international exchange program provides young people an opportunity to share their cultures while also exploring the culture, values, and educational system in the U.S. Through participating in community service, professional development, and cultural enrichment activities, they become leaders in their professions and communities.

Carla Gurunian is one of those young leaders. As part of the 2018–2019 Global UGRAD cohort, Gurunian traveled from her native Lebanon to study at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. During her stay, she made friends from all over the world, explored U.S. cities from New York to Las Vegas, and gained new confidence and insight for her future career. Gurunian shares her experience in the following essay that’s been adapted from Global UGRAD’s blog, the Global Gazette:

I remember sitting exactly where I am right now, almost two years ago, anxiously typing into a blank page why I was worth taking a chance on. Today, I am here to write about why it was all worth it.

Throughout my life, I was the girl from the neighborhood with massive dreams but no realistic way to achieve them. As my childhood friends wandered off to the best private colleges in the country, I was exhausting myself to get into the hardest one to get into: the one I could afford.

When I first heard of the Global UGRAD Program, I was in my first year at university. I recall starting the application and never completing it because something kept telling me that this kind of thing does not happen to me. A year later, the scholarship kept resurfacing, popping on my screen, in class, and through my professors. I decided to take a shot, thinking I had nothing to lose.

Every Global UGRADer remembers the day they got their placement. I checked my email first thing every morning until that one day when notice finally came that I was going to Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. I was going to live minutes away from the most beautiful city in the world and all of this was being granted to me just because a team of strangers believed in me. It was not until I landed in New York that I began to believe it was happening.

Education and Opportunity

You hear about it, read about it, see it in movies but will never understand the land of opportunities until you experience it yourself.

I have been passionate about criminology for many years. But the major simply does not exist in Lebanon. Being in the U.S., where a retired detective could be my professor and teach me about crime was a true dream.

At least that’s what I thought until I met agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration; visited a prison where I talked with convicts and heard their experiences; and spoke to an astronaut and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. These were opportunities beyond my imagination. Their support and encouragement to pursue my passion for criminology boosted my confidence in a way that has changed my life. For the first time, I know what I want to do for my future, and I am not stopping until I reach my goal.

Friendship and Cultural Diversity

Nothing compares to the beauty of leaving a piece of yourself with every friend you make in every corner of the world.

The first friend I made in the U.S. was a Vietnamese girl from Vancouver. We went to New York City for the first time together, learning how to take the subway in the freezing cold, following the path of sunlight on the sidewalks with no idea where we were. Someone from a country I knew nothing about became family.

Then I went to Washington, DC, for the Global UGRAD summit and the entire world was in a room. The most unique individuals from around the globe were right there for me to meet, laugh, and dance with. To learn so much about so many drastically different cultures only showed me how none of us are different at all.

A few months later, I was in tears to part with the dearest group of people to my heart from the U.S., France, Germany, Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Serbia, Hungary, and so many more countries. I plan on visiting each one of them for they must be beyond marvel to have produced such outstanding people.

Travel Around the U.S.

Every single time you discover a new place, you discover a part of yourself that you did not know existed.

One of the greatest things I got to do in the U.S. was travel. During spring break, I went to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. To see the empires of entertainment and then go to Washington, DC — the empire of history and the American Dream — was necessary to this experience. I would strongly encourage future Global UGRAD participants to do the same. I also made the most out of New Jersey and visited New York City every chance I got.

The Aftermath

Among alumni, we have a saying: “Once a UGRAD, always a UGRAD.”

As exchange students, I believe every one of us knows what it’s like to come back home as a new person rediscovering their own country. Every one of us understands the bittersweet feeling of reuniting with family and friends after just saying goodbye to new friends and family.

Today, I am more ambitious and dedicated than ever, believing truly that we can achieve absolutely anything we set our minds and hearts to. I still speak to my friends and fellow Global UGRADs all the time. Many of the friends I made in the U.S. are going to be visiting me in Lebanon in the upcoming months and one already did, which makes it easier to accept that it’s a small world and family will inevitably cross paths, hug, and make memories again.

I am forever grateful to World Learning, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, and the U.S. Department of State. Now, it is time to go out there and change the world.

Written by Carla Gurunian, 2018–2019 Global UGRAD student from Lebanon at Fairleigh Dickinson University. This essay was originally published in the Global Gazette.

Assessing the Successes and Lessons Learned from QITABI

A woman stands in front of her class surrounded by young students.

Public schools in Lebanon are better prepared than ever to help primary school students learn to read Arabic. Teachers have received training and coaching to improve their reading lessons. They now have access to resources like classroom libraries and technology, including e-books, that help them practice reading for more effective learning. Schools have also established systems that not only monitor student progress but are designed to support those who are struggling in their reading.

These developments were all part of the USAID-funded Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) project, which World Learning has been carrying out in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) since 2014. The project has helped improve education at 260 public primary schools across the country, benefiting more than 73,000 students in grades 1–4. World Learning, MEHE, and the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) are now collaborating on a national plan to expand the project to all 910 primary public schools in Lebanon.

Next week at the 2019 Comparative & International Education Society (CIES) Annual Conference in San Francisco, World Learning staff will present five papers on the successes and lessons learned from the project. The Global Education team gave us a sneak peek at what they will be discussing.

Creating an Effective and Sustainable Teacher Coaching System

For students to succeed in school, their teachers also need to be positioned for success. That’s why teacher training and coaching has been such an important part of QITABI. World Learning and MEHE provided training and in-school coaching to more than 1,000 Arabic language teachers at public primary schools across Lebanon.

Training sessions, conducted by CERD master trainers, covered a broad swath of practices from QITABI’s literacy education approach that teachers could incorporate in their classrooms. Teachers learned how to differentiate their lessons for students at varying reading levels and led activities like circle time, daily read-aloud sessions, mini-lessons, guided reading, shared reading, and independent reading. They also learned how to use technology and other literacy resources in their lessons and how to track and evaluate student progress.

In addition, QITABI worked to ensure teachers could successfully use their new skills in the classroom by offering a reinforcing system of training and coaching. Following the workshops with CERD trainers, teachers received in-school coaching from teacher mentors from MEHE’s Department of School Teacher Coaching and Counseling and QITABI facilitators.

QITABI Reading Expert Dr. Eva Kozma said via email that this in-school coaching system was designed to be intentional, responsive, and cooperative.

“Regular workshops and pause-and-reflection sessions were conducted with mentors to ensure that QITABI’s model is responding to the sector’s needs,” she wrote. “The work is done in close partnership and collaboration with MEHE and all stakeholders.”

According to Kozma, the system was also designed to be sustainable so the Lebanese government could eventually manage the training and coaching on its own. Beyond training teachers, the project also trained 60 master trainers and mentors from the ministry to work with the teachers.

“The ministry coaching system will permit the government to gain self-reliance to finance and implement the QITABI coaching model across all [public] primary schools in Lebanon,” she wrote.

The system is now being expanded to support the country’s remaining 654 public primary schools. In addition, QITABI-trained government master trainers and teacher mentors plan to assume responsibility for coaching all teachers over a period of several years.

QITABI Reading Expert Dr. Eva Kozma and Ministry of Education and Higher Education Program Manager Iman Assi will present the QITABI Teaching Coaching Model: A Sustainable Model to Reform Teaching and Learning in Lebanese Classrooms at CIES on April 15.

Leveraging Offline Resources to Increase Access to Technology in the Classroom

A small shelf cart of books with signs in Arabic on them.Integrating technology into the classroom has been a challenge in Lebanon, where public schools don’t have access to the internet. QITABI has helped to address this issue by providing each of the 260 participating schools with a suite of offline literacy education e-resources for grades 1–4.

In 2018, the schools received sets of children’s e-books, which were targeted to enhance students’ phonemic awareness, listening comprehension, fluency, and reading comprehension. The e-books were also targeted to students’ reading levels and could be used with struggling readers during one-on-one support in class.

“Teachers can use the e-books during read aloud sessions to reinforce phonemic awareness and build listening comprehension,” said Paulette Assaf, chief of party for QITABI. “The Center for Educational Research and Development considers the e-books to be essential resources for young readers. They feature a clear reading voice and basic animations that help engage students and their content aligns with the national Arabic curriculum and grade level themes.”

QITABI is also creating an e-kit for teachers, which will be distributed on CDs and flash drives within the next few months. The kits include information on QITABI’s reading model with supporting video tutorials, instructions on how to work with students who are not reading at grade level, a guide for providing intensive in-class support to struggling readers, and PowerPoint presentations for interactive lessons.

“The teachers’ e- resources were developed in response to their needs to support struggling readers in class,” Assaf said. “They also reinforce teachers’ understanding of World Learning’s reading approach so they can apply it to their reading lessons and activities.”

These resources will allow teachers to easily review and practice what they learned in their QITABI trainings and through enhanced student engagement in reading lessons. Nearly 38,000 students benefited from these e-resources during the 2017–18 school year and in the near future all public primary schools in Lebanon will have access to these same materials.

QITABI Monitoring and Evaluation Director Mirvat Merhi will present the Arabic Language Offline E-Resources to Support Teacher Professional Development and Sustain Reading Intervention at Public Schools at CIES on April 15.

Employing Universal Screening Tools to Assess Student Progress

A woman and a young girl sit at a table across from one another. The woman holds the girl's hand reassuringly.For reading programs to be effective, educators need ongoing feedback on students’ progress to be able to adapt lessons to changing student needs. In Lebanon, though, student evaluations typically focused on reading comprehension instead of reading skills and did not prioritize collecting information teachers could use as part of a responsive classroom.

QITABI aimed to change that by introducing a universal screening tool that provides a standard method of monitoring students’ reading performance over time.

“The universal screener is a formative assessment tool that teachers can use to evaluate student learning,” said Rajani Shrestha, World Learning’s director of Global Education. “It provides rapid feedback so that they can adjust their teaching to meet students’ needs and improve learning in real time.”

The assessment is based on the curriculum and carried out at least three times during each academic year. Arabic language teachers administer the untimed screening to students individually to evaluate their reading skills and track their progress.

Teachers have been able to use the data gathered through the screenings to identify classroom needs and respond quickly and effectively.

The screening tool also helped to measure QITABI’s impact on student learning outcomes. These assessments showed that after one year, 79.4 percent of students in the schools using QITABI’s teaching model had improved by at least one reading level.

They also demonstrated the effect QITABI’s teacher training had in the classroom. Students whose teachers completed training on integrating technology into the classroom showed significantly more improvement than those whose teachers did not. The same was true for students whose teachers completed training in the early-grade reading approach.

Based on feedback from educators who took part in the pilot study, QITABI modified some of the assessment tools and developed automated versions of others to make the system more efficient and less time consuming. The program also provided teachers with additional coaching and classroom support to facilitate the assessments.

These revised and automated tools will allow schools to independently monitor and evaluate student progress and provide a responsive and effective education for all students.

QITABI Monitoring and Evaluation Director Mirvat Merhi and the Center for Educational Research and Development’s Coordinator of Joint Academic Departments Rana Abdallah will present the QITABI Universal Screening Formative Assessment Tools: A Complementary Approach to Standardized Assessment of Early Grade Reading Skills at CIES on April 17.

Supporting Struggling Readers with an Early Warning System

A teacher sits in a group of students reading.Despite having access to cutting-edge resources, assessment tools, and well-trained teachers, there will always be students who struggle with reading. It’s vital to identify those students as early as possible to make a difference in their academic progress.

“In Lebanon, [there is] a need to adopt an in-class model that can offer struggling readers early support in the Arabic classroom to ensure their school success,” Kozma wrote.

QITABI created a three-tiered system of escalating interventions to support students who are having difficulty. It begins with the universal screening assessment, which helps teachers tailor their lessons to accommodate students at different reading levels. Students who are struggling then receive extra attention through small group, guided reading sessions several times a week. The last and most intensive tier is called the Early Warning System (EWS) and provides individualized support to students having significant difficulty making progress.

During the EWS period, teachers provide intensive one-on-one support for 15 to 20 minutes, two to three times a week for up to 12 weeks. They also track the student’s performance and keep a record of other significant indicators, such as multiple absences, interactions with peers, and preferred learning style.

If a student has not made progress during those 12 weeks, the teacher will alert the school’s curriculum coordinator and principal, as well as the student’s parents, so they can collaborate on an action plan to address the continuing issues.

The results of QITABI’s pilot study of EWS in 20 schools showed promising results. Of the 509 students who received additional support through EWS, 48 percent improved by at least one reading level.

“Arabic language teachers can be empowered to effectively support struggling readers in class,” Kozma wrote.

QITABI Reading Expert Dr. Eva Kozma and the Center for Educational Research and Development’s Head of Beirut Training and Resources Center’s Yvonne El Feghali will present QITABI Individualized Arabic Reading Support Through the Early Warning System at CIES on April 17.

Supporting Arabic Language Learners in the Classroom

A young boy stands at a white board and writes in Arabic.Another challenge teachers in Lebanon face is bridging the divide between colloquial, spoken Arabic (Ammiya), which students learn at home, and Modern Standard Arabic (Fus-Ha), which is used in school, writing, and more formal situations. There can be wide variations in grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary between the two, which means that students may be learning to read in what is essentially a foreign language.

“This situation is referred to as diglossia,” said Deepa Srikantaiah, World Learning senior education specialist. “Through QITABI, we are working to address diglossia by improving students’ phonemic awareness to develop their fluency and reading comprehension.  In addition, we are providing high quality reading materials with clear and attractive illustrations that help build students’ reading vocabulary.”

QITABI’s training has provided teachers with tools and techniques to help students through the transition from Ammiya to Fus-ha. These techniques, which rely on the similarities between the two languages, including common alphabet sounds, phonemes, vocabulary, and sentence structure. Teachers also learned classroom activities that can support student learning, including interactive read aloud sessions to improve pronunciation, build vocabulary, and learn grammar; using leveled books to move readers from simple sentences with common words to more complex ones; re-reading books to build fluency stamina; and shared reading with the teacher in small groups.

QITABI Reading Expert Dr. Eva Kozma will present Teacher Use of Tools and Uptake of Strategies to Address Diglossia Challenges in Teaching Primary Grade Children to Read in Arabic at CIES on April 18.

LDF Fellows Meet With Lebanese President to Discuss Critical Regional Issues

LDF Fellows and World Learning Lebanon Country Representative Dr. Wafa Kotob (center left) pose for a photo with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

It’s not every day that young people have the opportunity to talk with global leaders about critical issues. But on October 2, a group of young professionals from across the Middle East and North Africa met with Lebanese President General Michel Aoun and other Lebanese officials to discuss political, social, and economic issues affecting the region.

The meeting was arranged as part of the Leaders for Democracy Fellows (LDF) Program, administered by World Learning under the direction of Country Representative Dr. Wafa Kotob. Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), LDF seeks to enable early- and mid-career professionals from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to solve local challenges. The program is comprised of twin tracks, a U.S.-based program for English-speaking participants and a program based in Lebanon for Arabic speakers. Fellows engage in academic coursework and internships to help them build networks and glean insight from experts in their fields.

LDF fellows also have unique opportunities like their meeting with President Aoun.

“For someone to be a great leader, he has to have a great and open heart and great values,” says Abdulrahman, one of the young professionals in the group. “This is what we found in his Excellency Mr. Michel Aoun, who dedicated his precious time to us in order to convey his ideas of leadership and share with us the values of Lebanon, the beloved country in which we spent three months of our lives and that now has a special place in our hearts.”

During the meeting, which took place at the presidential palace in Beirut, fellows had a constructive conversation with President Aoun as well as Lebanon’s Minister of Justice Salim Grissati and the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women’s Affairs, Claudine Aoun Roukos.

The fellows were able to ask questions about the issues they’re concerned about such as freedom of speech, the status of refugees, women’s empowerment, and democracy building. President Aoun told the group that his government is making efforts to support women’s rights despite difficulties within society. He also shared his belief that there are limits to free speech when it becomes defamation but that it is a freedom protected by the Lebanese constitution.

The LDF fellows said they were grateful for the meeting with President Aoun, which gave them insight from his experiences.

“When leaders listen to the voices of youth, when they offer them free space to share their visions, ideas, challenges and views, when youth are given answers to their inquiries and concerns, only then a leader is worthy of his title,” says one of the fellows, Bouthaina Al-Selwi. “Thank you to his Excellency, Mr. Michel Aoun, and to World Learning for this wonderful opportunity.”

Since 2012, and with funding from USAID, the U.S.-Middle East Partnership initiative (MEPI), and the World Bank, World Learning has maintained an active presence in Lebanon. We have built the capacity of more than 150 civil society, government, and private sector institutions to effectively serve their communities; improved educational services for more than 300,000 students from more than 1,000 public schools across the country as USAID’s lead implementer on the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement program; and enhanced the capacity of around 150 leaders and civil rights activists from countries in the Middle East and North Africa through the MEPI-funded LDF program. Through these projects, World Learning Lebanon has developed a profound understanding of the challenges Lebanon is facing as a result of the influx of Syrian refugees, as well as an expertise in the public education sector in Lebanon, capacity-building of NGOs and CBOs, and educational research.

42 Young Professionals Join World Learning’s Leaders for Democracy Fellowship

World Learning welcomed 42 young leaders into the third cohort of its Leaders for Democracy Fellows (LDF) Program in July 2018. Over the course of 12 weeks, these fellows will develop and hone skills that are critical to making a difference in their communities.

LDF, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), is a leadership development program that seeks to enable early- and mid-career professionals from across North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) to solve local challenges. The program is comprised of two identical tracks, a U.S.-based program for English speaking participants and a program based in Lebanon for Arabic speaking participants.

Abdelaziz Noujoum, a 2018 fellow in the U.S.-based program, says he applied to LDF to learn new skills and glean knowledge from specialists and experts as he pursues his professional and civic goals, such as working to empower local farmers in his region.

“I am passionate about helping, learning, and sharing with others to have equal chances and opportunities and ultimately make the world a better place,” he said. “This program will be a life-changing opportunity.”

LDF fellows presenting their Civic Action Plans at Duke Center for International Development.

This year, World Learning has partnered with the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Duke Center for International Development (DCID) to provide academic instruction and hands-on training. During the first four weeks of the program, faculty and staff from AUB and DCID — as well as local experts, government officials, and activists — facilitated lectures, workshops, field visits, and roundtable discussions on topics such as participatory governance, conflict resolution, coalition building, negotiations, and effective communications. Fellows learned the qualities and practices of successful leaders, explored the root causes of local political and social challenges, and discussed the power of storytelling in civic campaigns.

“I believe in the power of youth,” said Ghada Thimech, a 2018 participant in the U.S.-based program. “I am hopeful that the program would help me enable my peers to enjoy a better future.”

An LDF fellow at her internship in Washington, DC.

Now that their academic coursework is complete, the fellows are participating in full-time internships in Beirut, Lebanon, or Washington, D.C., where they cultivate professional networks, study best practices, and apply their academic learning by working on issues they’re passionate about. World Learning also organizes bi-weekly enrichment seminars for the Fellows to refine their project ideas and connect them with experts and practitioners.

“[My supervisors] gave me a different perspective which I never thought about,” said Moien Odeh, a 2016 fellow in the U.S.-based program, who interned at the Woodrow Wilson Center International Center for Scholars as part of the LDF program. “This changed my view on U.S. policy itself, and might also change the way we work back home.”

Over the course of the program, fellows will also use project design and management tools to develop a Civic Action Plan (CAP), which aim to either improve upon the fellows’ existing work or help them develop a new project in their communities. Past fellows have developed and implemented a variety of successful projects, including an advocacy campaign that promoted volunteerism in Gaza and a program that delivers educational resources to underserviced areas in Morocco.

LDF fellows participate in roundtable discussions on topics such as participatory governance, conflict resolution,  and effective communications.

We look forward to seeing how this year’s class of fellows will work to make a difference, too, as they return to their home countries with new experiences, connections, skills and tools that can help them make meaningful impact in their communities.

To learn more about the LDF program, please visit: https://mepi.state.gov/education/ldf

— Written by Besher Al Makhlouf, Program Officer, Leaders for Democracy Fellowship (LDF) Program, and LDF intern, Kelsey Cochran

In Lebanon, a New Bus Fleet is Helping Thousands of Kids Go Back to School

As kids around the world head back to school, it’s important to remember that, for some, just getting to school can be an insurmountable challenge.

In Lebanon, World Learning and its partners have tackled that challenge head-on. This year, thousands of children returned to school in a fleet of 100 new buses serving 100 public schools in 24 districts across the country. The buses were made possible due to a $4.6 million donation from the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) program.

Lebanon Minister of Education and Higher Education Marwan Hamade and U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard unveiled the new buses at a ceremony in July.

“These buses will support public schools to ensure a child-friendly environment, which also provides safe transportation for students across the country,” said Lebanon’s Minister of Education and Higher Education Marwan Hamade at an event unveiling the new buses.

Since 2014, QITABI has been strengthening the public education system in Lebanon. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and administered by World Learning, the $46.2 million initiative works to improve young students’ ability to read in Arabic, as well as bolster effective management practices, and expand access to education for students in schools across the country. QITABI also works to alleviate the strains to the system resulting from the continuing inflow of Syrian refugee children into Lebanese public schools.

Many of the students QITABI works with have difficulty accessing their education due to a lack of transportation options. Enrollment in public schools is especially challenging in Lebanon’s rural areas, which have underdeveloped transport systems. The new buses, which are already in use for the 2018–2019 academic year, will help 5,000 students from vulnerable families get to school.

The buses feature logos for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon.

QITABI unveiled the new bus fleet in a ceremony on July 24. The buses feature the USAID and Ministry of Education and Higher Education logos, as well as a unique design featuring the names of the schools they will benefit. QITABI will provide training on bus management, safety and child protection awareness, and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education will operate and maintain the buses.

In her remarks at the unveiling, U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard noted that education is one of the most important factors in determining the future of a young person’s life. The school bus program, she said, is one of many ways the U.S. government intends to help vulnerable children, both Lebanese and Syrian, obtain that education.

“It will provide safe, reliable, and modern transportation system to get Lebanese children to school,” she said. “And I cannot think of a more important mission for us to be supporting.”

Watch a video about the new school buses:


The Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement(QITABI) project aims to expand equitable access and improve learning outcomes for vulnerable students in Lebanese public schools. Funded by USAID, the project will have an immediate focus on alleviating the strains to the system resulting from the continuing inflow of Syrian refugee children into Lebanese public schools. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon, QITABI will improve facilities, services, and teaching as well as effectively engage communities and school councils to improve learning and increase the chances of youth remaining in the education system. The QITABI Consortium is led by World Learning, and includes Ana Aqra’, AMIDEAST, and Management Systems International (MSI).