“Working with children with trauma is challenging. It is difficult to balance teaching and knowing what the students are struggling with.”
This is how one educator described working with refugee children in a non-formal learning center partnering with LSESD’s community development and relief arm, MERATH. It is a message that Christine Bingham, project coordinator at MERATH, has heard in every learning center she has visited.
These unspoken struggles make what are already very difficult learning environments much more complicated for educators: “Many of the teachers feel overwhelmed by their students, because they have a wide range of educational backgrounds,” she explains. “One student who is 12 might be at the same level as an 8-year-old, but they are at different maturity levels, which makes teaching challenging.”
Through small group “social clubs” and other counselling settings, SKILD collaborates with MERATH to provide psychosocial support at 8 church-based learning centers that provide education for 1,500 Syrian children in Lebanon. Drawing on her background in fine arts and experience working with Palestinian children in West Beirut, Bingham felt called to organize a workshop to even further equip educators with practical tools and examples to make classrooms more conducive to learning through art.
This workshop took place on June 10th, in the Mount Lebanon town of Dhour Choueir, as part of MERATH’s Educational Learning Network (ELN) program, during a one-day event that brought together around 90 educators working with more than 2,000 Syrian refugee children in their communities. Other sessions included training on dealing with learners in distress and how to teach children to keep safe as active implementers of child protection policies.
The aim of Bingham’s workshop was to help educators make use of art, not as a subject matter, but as a teaching technique – one that can give them insight into what the children they work with regularly are thinking and feeling, so that they can better approach their learning objectives. To make the most of art activities, educators were encouraged to “avoid controlling the artistic process,” as “there are no right or wrong ways to do art,” and to “make neutral observations on things such as the color, shape, size, use of space, and focal point,” focusing on why the child may be expressing his or herself that way. Educators were urged to “be curious, without judging,” asking students questions like: “if you were to step into this picture you drew, where would you go? What would you do?”
Bingham emphasized how “less is more” in terms of the content of the lesson plan, so as not to overstimulate the students. Inspired by ideas from Art and Music Therapy, Bingham explained how breathing techniques and calming music could help complement these art activities, aiding in classroom management and receptive learning.
In the months after this training event, one educator expressed how a student she works with began to draw only dark and bloody images, bringing attention to underlying issues that had not been noticed before. Another educator has decided to add an art class to her non -formal education center’s curriculum, starting this school year; the long-term aim is to incorporate art activities within other lessons, such as math, language or science, in order to reinforce their knowledge acquisition in more creative ways.
Since the beginning of 2017, MERATH’s ELN program has grown substantially, with educators participating from all over not only Lebanon, but also Syria and Iraq. The program has been providing quarterly professional development and networking opportunities for educators working in non-formal learning centers around the country. The overall aim of this initiative is to help these educators meet International Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) standards, so that Syrian children are not robbed of the education that is their rightful inheritance.
Jad Baaklini | Program Officer