A decade into the Syrian civil war, a humanitarian crisis continues to beleaguer Syrians and refugee host countries. Tenuous infrastructures and economies are buckling further under the pressure of pandemic shutdowns. The educational brand SAT-7 ACADEMY has adapted to this emergency, mobilising cutting-edge teaching models to support children.
The threatening mantra uttered by Assad loyalists at the beginning of the conflict – “Assad or we burn the country” – was a true indicator of the wreckage that would ravage the nation. Over 200,000 human casualties have been sustained in the conflict. Half of Syria’s population has fled. At least 4,200 schools in Syria have been damaged, destroyed, militarised or taken over as shelters by internally displaced people.
One in three children in Syria were out of school by late 2019, and in northern Syria, the pandemic recently pushed this number to two in three. Syrian refugee host countries, such as Lebanon, are also under intense pressure to provide basic services, including education.
In direct response to these humanitarian catastrophes, SAT-7’s educational brand SAT-7 ACADEMY was launched in 2017 to help mitigate the conflict’s impact on vulnerable children whose schooling was interrupted. The programme My School has faithfully provided regular instruction in maths, science, Arabic, English and French, and children have grown up with the programme’s foundational teaching. Student Akram says, “Mrs Grace is awesome. I benefit from her every day. In fact, my whole family watches her lessons. We love all the teachers very much.”
From linear to modular
Now My School is making a transformational leap from a traditional linear approach to a modular approach. The newest season, which will also be available to watch on the new video-on-demand service SAT-7 PLUS, will present content thematically in 10-minute episodes. This cutting-edge approach is more student-centred, enabling the most vulnerable children, those who have missed the most schooling, to derive the maximum benefit.
“The short-term goal is definitely to save whatever time can be saved in terms of learning acquisition,” says Educational Consultant Roy Saab. “If we can save everybody a year, up to age nine or ten, we know that we have achieved a massive long-term goal when they go back to school. We have saved them the emotional impact of falling behind. We have saved them having to catch up. And we have saved them from the very high possibility of dropping out.”
Saab adds that while much of the Middle East and North Africa region is holding fast to the linear model, or rote learning, the modular approach has become critically important during pandemic shutdowns.
Juliana Sfeir, SAT-7 ACADEMY Manager, says, “It will be a more holistic approach for learning and an ongoing one – something that will be with the children for a longer time. We strongly believe that online education has started, and it will not stop. This is the beginning of a new era, and it is not due only to the pandemic. Even beyond the pandemic, this is how learning will develop.”
Content Producer and My School teacher Grace Al-Najjar balances the benefits of teaching on-air with the flexibility of multi-modal learning. She explains, “The limitation of media is that the child has access to a person, not with a person .” In a multi-modal model such as My School, audience members can contact teachers in real time during Facebook live episodes once a week, or by messaging at any time.
At the onset of COVID-19, the SAT-7 ACADEMY team packaged the brand’s resources together so that parents, NGOs working in education, and people called into action as home-schoolers could find what they needed more easily.
Skills for rebuilding
Looking ahead, children in countries like Syria will have to be equipped with special skills to forge functioning societies as they rebuild. As a result, from 2022, My School’s curriculum will incorporate psychosocial topics, financial education, children’s rights, human rights, tolerance, resilience and communication.
Since its launch in 2017, SAT-7 ACADEMY has expanded to provide programming to meet other needs experienced by the most vulnerable children and families, including emotional and psychological challenges. This support helps them, in turn, to be ready to learn. Now SAT-7 is also launching Lebanon – Our Story, a project in which a diverse group of young people in Lebanon, including Syrian refugees, will work together to bridge societal divisions by developing positive new narratives. This project, which began in March 2021, is funded by the Danish government and run in collaboration with the Danish Bible Society and the Center for Church-Based Development.
 Abdulrahim, R. 2019, March 6. “Assad or We Burn the Country”: How the Syrian Regime Prevailed. The Wall Street Journal.↩