AN ARAB Christian satellite-television channel has begun
broadcasting education programmes aimed primarily at the three
million refugee children from Iraq and Syria. The channel SAT-7,
from studios in the Lebanese capital Beirut, is producing a daily
90-minute-long programme that provides rudimentary lessons in the
core subjects of Arabic, English, and mathematics, aimed at an
audience aged roughly between five and ten.
The CEO of SAT-7, Terence Ascott, said that millions of young
people in the Middle East were missing out on education because of
the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, and the idea was to
help meet this need.
The programme Madrasati - "My School" in Arabic -
already had an audience estimated at more than one million.
"Madrasati is very colourful and musical, and very
attractive," Mr Ascott said. "It's impossible to get precise
figures, but we know that some children watch it in their family
tents, others in communal areas in refugee camps."
He was aware, too, that many mothers who had missed out on
schooling because of traditional attitudes in some societies in the
Arab world were also benefiting by watching Madrasati with
their children. Rita Elmounayer, the executive director of SAT-7
Kids, said that in "providing education to this lost generation of
refugees from Syria and Iraq, we are investing not just in their
future, but in the future of the Arab world".
Mr Ascott said that SAT-7 was looking at ways of expanding both
the range of subjects taught by Madrasati, which is
rebroadcast twice every 24 hours, and the target age-range. The
programme is produced in Lebanon, but the teachers involved, and
the curriculum, are Syrian.
"This doesn't raise any issues," Mr Ascott said, "because the
three subjects being taught at the moment are straightforward and
uncontroversial. We are not broadcasting anything that is
culturally specific, or touching on sensitive issues. Teaching
history might be another matter."
Although the SAT-7 education slot is seeking to fill an
education gap among young refugees, Mr Ascott pointed out that the
potential audience was much bigger: the programme is available to
viewers throughout the Middle East.
The need for new and innovative sources of education is acute. A
recently published report by two UN agencies, UNICEF and UNESCO,
suggested that more than 21 million children and young adolescents
in the Middle East and North Africa are either out of school, or at
risk of dropping out. Girls are at particular risk of missing out
because of social attitudes, early marriage, and a shortage of
female teachers. On average, a girl in the Arab world is 25 per
cent less likely to be in school than a boy.
Among adolescents, high drop-out rates are fuelled by poor
education standards and low-quality school environments. "Our aim",
Mr Ascott said, "is to give at least some of these people a start
in life by offering them a basic education."
Mr Ascott believes that, although the outside world could help
Arabs cope with the host of crises affecting the region by
providing assistance in the form of education and other such
services, it is important that the West should not get involved on
the ground. "Arabs have got to sort these crises out on their own,"
he said. "They've got to build the capacity to manage things in the