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Arab Christian TV provides lessons for refugee children

15 May 2015


Early learning: a still from Little Painter, a new SAT-7 Farsi language programme for 4- to 10-year-olds, aiming to inspire young viewers through painting and storytelling 

Early learning: a still from Little Painter, a new SAT-7 Farsi language programme for 4- to 10-year-olds, aiming to inspire young viewers through pa...

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 long term."

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