Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher

Former British Ambassador to Lebanon

Part of UK in Lebanon

1st March 2013 Beirut, Lebanon

Britain’s Education Offer to Lebanon, and Speechmaking by Twitter

Yesterday was our ‘Education, Education, Education’ Day.

I met the prizewinners of our competition for English teachers, including an inspirational administrator from Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp, whose winning lesson plan was based on fish and chips. She is helping even those living in extreme desperation to enjoy and unlock English.

But the day began with earthier Anglo-Saxon, unsuitable for a family blog. I had got up early to write a speech on education for an event twinning UK and Lebanese universities, but my iPad crashed before I could send it to the printer. My son, off school ironically for the teacher’s strike, had run the battery down.

The speech wasn’t exactly Demosthenes, but with half an hour until the event, it was too late to start afresh. So I asked Twitter for ideas.

As ever, it delivered a mixture of the comic (free visas?), critical and creative. Twitter told me that lack of education was more expensive than education. That education is not about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire. That the Arab world is young –  with one in four jobless, and 90m due to enter the job market in the coming decade.

That almost 400,000 international students study at UK universities each year, 10% of the international market. That we have four universities in the top 10. That Peter Brougham said ‘education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to drive: easy to govern, but impossible to enslave’.

That Lebanon spends more on education than anything but food, more per capita than any other country.

Twitter also generated suggestions for Lebanon: more online resource, less rote learning, civic education about other religions.

With all this in mind, I want to explain Britain’s education offer to Lebanon, how we will back Lebanon’s future by backing its educators.

First, the English language. As I argued in an earlier blogpost, this is a fire worth lighting. For a nation of traders and travellers such as Lebanon, the language of Shakespeare, Facebook and the London and New York stock exchanges is not just useful – it is indispensable.

The Phoenecians gave us our alphabet. We want to give the Lebanese our language. So the British Council will make it possible for anyone in Lebanon to learn English, for free. We are putting online every resource you need to teach or learn English.

Second, because it is about quality and not just quantity, we’ll make sure that English language teachers are the best they can be. In the coming year the British Council will train 2000 English language teachers, about 20% of all those in Lebanon. With their help, we want to boost the numbers of students taking English by a third, making it Lebanon’s second language.

We’ll also make available our benchmarks for English, including the IELTS test. And we’ll fight hard for equivalence for the British A-Level.

Third, we’ll bring the best of British technology to Lebanese classrooms and educational partnerships to Lebanon’s institutions.

Already, Prometheon are putting interactive whiteboards in schools across the country. Last year we organised the largest British education trade mission to the region. We’ll bring an even larger mission in September, with over thirty British education providers in Beirut, alongside English UK’s annual conference.

Fourth, we will aim to attract more Lebanese students to UK universities. We issued 25% more student visas last year, more than ever before, enabling an increasing number of Lebanese students to study in the UK.

We’ll support the very best students, the role models and change makers, with six fully funded Masters scholarships. And because we also want to forge connections between those who don’t have the means to travel, we are linking more than fifty classrooms to their counterparts in the UK.

Finally, we will support the Ministry of Education’s reform agenda. They and their local partner – an NGO called Adyan working with educational experts and religious leaders – are changing the foundations of the education system, from one based on fusion and tolerance to one based on diversity and partnership. Pupils will for the first time be taught in all schools that Lebanon’s diversity is not a reason for division and weakness, but for unity and strength.

So thank you Twitter for salvaging a speech, thank you to the British Council and English teachers throughout Lebanon in the frontline of this effort, and thank you to the British and Lebanese institutions that are forging the partnerships that will underpin it.

It matters. As investment in Britain’s best export. As downpayment on Lebanon’s future. And because, as Disraeli said even without the benefit of Twitter, “on the education of the people the fate of this country depends”.

9 comments on “Britain’s Education Offer to Lebanon, and Speechmaking by Twitter

  1. Dear Ambassador Fletcher,

    I am a lebanese national living in London. My son is around 4 years old and I have to make a decision on choosing a british school or a private french school. I am inclined to put him in a british school but am worried of not being able to go back to lebanon as british schools are rare (unlike american or french schools). Is there a list of recommended and accredited british schools in lebanon? also, can a child of a british school system easily join the american system without much difficulty? thanks.

  2. Hello,

    Interesting article.

    ‘Lebanon spends more on education than anything but food, more per capita than any other country’.

    Can we get the source of this statement?? I couldn’t find on internet this information ! I am not sure it is true.

    Thank you


    1. Good question Mark. It came from one of my political experts. I’ll ask him to get you the source!

  3. What interesting statistics you mentioned! It never struck me exactly how much Lebanese spend on education, it’s a shame the “brain drain crisis” tries to take away our brightest. It makes me incredibly happy to have such an ambassador as yourself helping the Lebanese people. You seem to genuinely care about what you do and your passion for your culture and ours is contagious. As a university student myself, you inspire me to help change my surroundings for the better! Thank you 😀

  4. Dear Ambassador Fletcher:

    Your comments about English resonate with me strongly. Although I grew up in Lebanon speaking French and Arabic, English was (and still is) my favorite language from the first time I heard it. Perhaps pop music had something to do with it in the early days. I moved to the US at 18 and have been living in the US for decades. Perhaps the best ‘visa’ a young Lebanese can get today is a good command of English.


  5. On a similar but slightly different note, I shall be in Beirut from 10th – 16th March teaching an ‘Introduction to Motivational Interviewing’ course to the staff team at Skoun Addiction Centre. This came about because one of the graduates from the BSc in Addictions Counselling course that I taught on, which was delivered on behalf of The University of Bath, came across to the UK on a student visa. She is now one of my counselling supervisees, and I also supervise one of her collegues. So although this doesn’t constitute formal teaching of English to Lebanese nationals, there should be an interesting knock-on effect from teaching a western counselling approach, in English, to a group of professionals who work in the addictions field. I’m looking forward to the experience….

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About Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011. Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford…

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011.

Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford College), graduating with a First class degree in Modern History. He has an MA in Modern History, and is a Senior Associate Member of St Anthony’s College for International Studies, Oxford.

He is married to Louise Fletcher and they have two sons, Charles (born 2006) and Theodor (born 2011). Tom enjoys political history, cricket (Strollers CC), and mountains, and is the co-founder of 2020 (a progressive think tank).

Tom was awarded the Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2011 New Year’s Honours, for services to the Prime Minister.