MMKN (It’s possible!): How youth volunteerism is fostering academic achievement in Lebanon’s public schools

Photo credit | Sarah Hunter

The statistic about Lebanon we are accustomed to hearing these days is that 1 in 4 people is a refugee. With around 500,000 Syrian refugee children in the country, the Lebanese public school system is struggling under the weight of a growing student population.

This said and even before the emergence of a refugee crisis, the Lebanese public school system was ailing. Fourth-grade dropout rates reach 50% in some areas. The ninth-grade ‘brevet’ exam pass rate sinks to as low as 25% in some schools. Much needs to be done to ensure that students are learning and advancing in school.

What is MMKN?

One Lebanese social enterprise is responding ambitiously. MMKN, meaning ‘it is possible’ in Arabic, mobilises private university students to volunteer their time to work with ninth grade public school students who are at risk of failing the brevet exam. MMKN trains these volunteers to identify the educational needs of their students and then to prepare them to confidently sit and pass the brevet exam. MMKN’s reinforcement classes do not only prepare these ninth graders for the exam, but help strengthen their understanding of key academic concepts, build their confidence and leave them with a sense of purpose and broader community. In turn, MMKN volunteers gain valuable work experience while fostering an appreciation of civic engagement during their formative years.

Working in collaboration with academics, MMKN has created a comprehensive, peer-reviewed curriculum of content, which it trains volunteer tutors to teach to students in reinforcement and exam preparation classes. MMKN follows up regularly with its tutors to provide further ‘on-the-job’ guidance and to ensure that the quality of their instruction is of a consistently high standard.

MMKN: A Social Enterprise to Invest In

In 2015, MMKN attracted venture philanthropy investment and support from Alfanar, meaning ‘beacon’ in Arabic. Alfanar helped MMKN scale its reach with private universities and ninth-grade students. In parallel, Alfanar’s financing enabled MMKN to establish a private tutoring centre in Beirut, which, in the long run, will enable MMKN to generate unrestricted revenue that cross-subsidises the growth of its volunteer tutoring programme.

After one year of Alfanar investment, the results speak for themselves. Across Lebanon, 142 MMKN volunteer tutors reached 686 ninth-grade students sitting the brevet in 14 different public schools. Students participating in the MMKN programme achieved a 96% pass rate of the Brevet exam, compared to a 25% pass rate among students in some of the same schools who were notparticipating in the MMKN support programme.

MMKN’s founder was herself a biology teacher for over 40 years. Today, MMKN volunteers provide best-in-class tutoring for students in public schools, transforming their education and career paths. With Alfanar’s support, MMKN launched The Study Room at their headquarters in Hamra, now providing the same cutting edge tutoring to private school students. This hybrid model creates revenue to fuel, sustain, and scale MMKN’s impact. Alfanar investment is enabling MMKN to grow its reach topublic schools nationwide.

Peer-to-Peer Learning Produces Results

One of the most effective aspects of the MMKN tutoring programme is the creativity these young volunteers bring to the classroom. Being close in age to these ninth-graders, MMKN tutors can relate to and empathise with their students. Accordingly, they employ creativity and fun to respond to classroom challenges and to engage their students in the learning process.

Below, MMKN volunteers share their creative classroom techniques.

Rayana

Rayana is a university nutrition student and a MMKN volunteer tutor. She teaches at an all-girls school in Zarif, Beirut.

"I was pretty demotivated when I started, as I couldn’t get my students to pay attention. I just couldn’t establish a connection. Finally, I resorted to ‘game-ifying’ classes and homework — in other words, using games and incentives to make the work fun. Suddenly my remedial class grew from 5 students to 15, just by word of mouth about how much fun it was! This simple approach went a long way to ensuring that the students engages and became enthusiastic about lessons.

I also asked them all to make a wish at the start of the year, write it down and then reflect on it at the end of the school year to determine how close we got to achieving these wishes. They often seemed surprised at my request at first, but by the end of the year they were so happy to see just how far they had progressed.”

Majed

Majed is a pre-med university student and a MMKN volunteer tutor.

“I changed the cheating policy in class after I noticed that it was something the students were doing with a sense of pride. I told them, ‘I won’t punish you for cheating — whenever any of you can’t answer a question, just openly ask your mate to help you out.’

This approach turned everyone’s questions into group learning opportunities and a chance to build camaraderie among students. By bringing issues out into the open, I was able to help the students really learn and prepare for the exam.”

Ghada

Ghada is an Audiovisual Communications university student and a MMKN volunteer tutor. She teaches French for the Brevet exam.

“I quickly noticed that my students had many gaps in their understanding of basic language structure. I decided to use music, pop culture and films as teaching tools. Instead of critiquing texts, they critiqued videos. Suddenly, everyone was trying to express their opinion in French because that was the only rule to the game. The students became energised and engaged because they were having fun in class”

By working together, MMKN and Alfanar are making a significant impact on struggling public school children in Lebanon’s disadvantaged communities. Alfanar recently approved long-term investment in MMKN, which will enable this committed social enterprise to reach an additional 1,180 students across 15 new schools."

You can invest in their efforts by donating here.