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Libya: When learning takes a backseat

13 Nov 2020

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A teacher in a classroom in Libya. Credit: UNICEF/Zakaria

A teacher and her student in Tripoli share their experiences and struggles due to conflict and COVID-19.

By Ahmed Rih, Public Information Associate in Tripoli

Soumaya, a high-school teacher in Tripoli, Libya, is despondent, as her students have been deeply affected by displacement, conflict and now COVID-19.

One of Soumaya’s students recently told her that he was unable to focus on his studies because his home was crowded with several families sharing the space, a result of displacement caused by the most recent period of conflict in and around Tripoli from April 2019 to June 2020.

“I advised my student to go out and try to study with his friends,” says Soumaya. “But at the same time, I know that this is not a viable solution either.”

Most of her students have nowhere to go in their war-torn country, where stepping foot outside could be risky. Despite a ceasefire signed in October 2020 by the main parties to the conflict, explosive remnants of war remain and heavily armed militias control many areas.

“War and displacement severely affected my students’ state of mind,” explains Soumaya. “Some are displaced themselves, while others live with displaced people in their homes.”

Since the Tripoli offensive began in April last year, hundreds of people have been killed, while some 400,000 people have had to leave their homes.

No room to study

Islam, 18, is one of Soumaya’s students. He is enduring the same situation as some of his classmates: the conflict destroyed not only his home but also his willingness to study.

“My family and I were lucky as we were outside our home visiting relatives when our house was bombed. Our home is now levelled to the ground, along with my father’s car. But luckily no one was hurt,” he says.

Islam knows he cannot take his survival for granted, as one of his classmates was killed by a landmine just a few months prior.

He adds: “We were forced to find a new place to live and rent a place in the outskirts of Tripoli. After our house was targeted, I dropped out of school for a while. I was in a bad mental state; I could not bear to study or even to look at schoolbooks.”

Soumaya believes that the war and its ramifications had a significant impact on her students’ learning capabilities. She explains: “The education level of half of my students is poor. There is no doubt that this is one of the effects of the conflict. Students have not studied a full school year. Their education was interrupted many times by the war.”

She adds that these interruptions hinder students from acquiring the fundamental knowledge needed for advanced subjects.

School closures due to COVID-19 have affected more than 1.3 million students in Libya. Credit: UNICEF/Zakaria

Remote learning out of reach for many

School closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 left more than 1.3 million students without access to education. Many of these students were introduced to remote learning for the first time in their lives.

“Remote learning is a great alternative ... but students here need a teacher in front of them, so when they don’t understand something they can ask the teacher directly,” Soumaya says.

The courses were pre-recorded and broadcast on several local television channels and online platforms to allow students to resume their studies from home. Online lessons have provided a lifeline for many students, but not all students are reached. Those without computer and Internet access, a television or adult supervision are disadvantaged.

“They do not rebroadcast the lessons,” Islam says. “If I don’t understand a certain topic, I cannot ask the teacher to explain it. This learning process is passive. They are sending information one way without receiving any feedback.”

The challenges do not end there. Lack of school equipment and deteriorating living conditions affect learning immensely, and daily power cuts can last 20 hours a day.

Islam adds: “Sometimes I study with candlelight, sometimes with moonlight, and sometimes our neighbour who has a power generator extends a wire to our house so we can turn on the lights.”

Schools remain closed for classes, but they opened for exams at the end of October for three weeks. Safety measures were implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.

Islam has faced many setbacks. But despite this, being able to return to school – even just temporarily – gives him hope.

“I think I did well on the exams and am optimistic about the future, despite the challenges we have faced,” he says joyfully.