“For the fourth year in a row, teachers, schools, parents and students are gearing up for another eventful school year in Lebanon. While the summer holidays are drawing to a close (some private students have already returned to school), the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) has yet to develop a clear strategy or vision to address the myriad issues affecting learning prospects. one and a half million Lebanese and Syrian students. On the contrary, it is pushing 39,000 public school teachers and 50,000 private sector teachers to save even more. And in order to avoid teacher strikes, he is content with half-hearted solutions. He offers teachers minor financial compensation, while threatening them with disciplinary action if they refrain from attending school because of the prohibitive cost of transport. Meanwhile, over the past three years, students have missed school a lot due to the 2019 popular uprising, lockdowns from the Covid-19 pandemic, and teachers’ strikes. This horrifying description is at the heart of a study published in early September by the Lebanese Studies Center at the Lebanese American University (LAU), jointly conducted by Mohammad Hammoud and Maha Cheaib, who are sounding the alarm. “Children in Lebanon cannot afford to lose another school year,” the researchers warn.
No plan for education sector
The Center for Lebanese Studies aims to evaluate the performance of the government, the Ministry of Education and the donor community. First of all, he intends to put pressure on them to push them to develop a strategy worthy of the name. Hence this study, for the second year in a row, on the impact of the crisis on the education sector in Lebanon. “The start of the school year is near. And still not the slightest plan in the field of education. Only last-minute solutions are offered, without impact analysis or feasibility studies,” lamented Maha Cheib, contacted by L’Orient-Le Jour. “Education management has been in a deplorable state for so many years. First, at the level of the ministry, its chaotic structure, lack of staff, the departure of its CEO Fadi Yarak, the lack of transparency of its decision-making powers,” she grumbles. To make matters worse, “enormous amounts of aid have been given to education. These sums were spent to no avail, without transparency, without an investigation to identify embezzlement and theft, and without holding those responsible accountable,” she accuses, pointing her finger at the Lebanese authorities on the one hand, international organizations and donors on the other. “Donors are partly responsible for not demanding more transparency and questioning MEHE’s continued failure to deliver on its promises over the past 30 years,” Ms Cheaib insists. Hence the need to react urgently before it is too late for the Lebanese students. “Otherwise, children in Lebanon could lose their fourth year of schooling,” the study warns.
With this in mind, the research organization conducted an online survey of 2,700 parents of students (89% in private schools and 11% in public schools) and 1,512 teachers (57% in private schools and 43% in public schools), distributed across eight mohafazata. A round table was also organized with the participation of representatives of various teacher unions, parents, representatives of education and civil society to discuss the results and make recommendations for a successful school year.
Teachers’ salary equivalent to $131 per month.
For teachers, the impact of the crisis is simply dramatic, because their salaries have been worth nothing since the collapse of the national currency. And no drastic measures have been taken to compensate for the loss of their purchasing power, other than a fixed monthly compensation of $90 per teacher in the public sector, which is largely insufficient.
“Since 2019, due to the depreciation of the Lebanese pound (it hit a record exchange rate of 39,000 LL to one dollar yesterday), wages paid in local currency have lost more than 90% of their value,” the researchers report. Despite the financial compensation that some teachers have taken advantage of, the too low wages no longer cover their basic expenses. According to people who responded to investigators, “A teacher’s average monthly income paid in Lebanese pounds is now only the equivalent of $131. As for transportation costs, they are $128 per month. Which leaves the teacher with only $3 to live on for the entire month.”
This situation resulted in 66% of teachers taking on a second job to cover their living expenses, and two-thirds of teachers borrowing money to meet their basic needs. Because 73% of teachers said they had trouble paying their bills. No wonder, given that monthly electricity and internet bills account for 139% of their average monthly income. Worse still, the financial crisis has deprived teachers of their basic human needs, with nearly all or 99% saying the crisis has limited their access to health services.
The high cost of transportation also forced 60% of teachers to miss school days. As a result, 20% of them were disciplined for absenteeism and deprived of an additional monthly allowance of $90 (issued in principle to all public teachers). The reality that negatively impacted their motivation to work and their psychological well-being, as well as their relationship with management, is further highlighted by the CEL study.
This additional allowance, designed to compensate for the devaluation of wages, was described by more than three-quarters of teachers (86%) as mediocre. Because this compensation was provided only to state teachers, and most of the contract workers and part-time workers are deprived of it. Similarly, half of those surveyed considered the work of private and public education unions to be unsatisfactory because these organizations did not provide adequate support to teachers.
The failure of stakeholders to adequately respond to the crisis has left many teachers in despair. 73% of them plan to leave education, and three-quarters plan to leave Lebanon. “The sharp decline in the quality of life of teachers is one of the main problems of modern education,” Ms. Cheaib comments. “The only way out of the problem is to once and for all overestimate the salaries of teachers, and not just help them,” she recommends.
Parents face tuition dollarization
Another serious problem in the industry is the decrease in the purchasing power of the parents of students whose income is mainly in national currency. According to the researcher, they simply do not have the funds to meet the request of private schools to pay a fee in dollars in addition to tuition fees in Lebanese pounds.
Taking into account the average tuition fee per year per child ($1,037) and school transportation ($1,318), parents should pay an average of $2,355 per child in a private school, the study highlights. Despite the redlines imposed by the Ministry of Education, 7 out of 10 parents indicated that their child’s school requires a portion of tuition to be paid in “toll” dollars in addition to the Lebanese pound tuition increase. Faced with this significant increase, the median monthly income of households reported by parents is capped at $462, meaning that 42% of their annual income is spent on a child’s education, and these figures do not include additional expenses such as books and stationery.
With rising tuition fees, half of parents said they had recently transferred their child from a private school to a public school, and 87% said they could no longer pay tuition. All these problems threaten the educational future of children, as 72% of parents said they may no longer have the means to pay for their child’s education, and 10% indicated that their child may have to start school early.
Necessary Structural Reforms
The consequences for students are devastating. Children in Lebanon, especially Syrians, have been doing poorly in school for the past three years, which could jeopardize their educational future. According to a third of parents and teachers surveyed, the crisis has reduced school performance and the overall psychological well-being of children: 10% of dropouts and 15% of repeaters. Similarly, the economic crisis has affected the functioning of schools. Three-quarters of teachers said their schools are not quite ready for the start of the new school year due to lack of fuel and staff, which could have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning for the fourth year in a row.
“For the fourth year in a row, teachers, schools, parents and students are gearing up for another eventful school year in Lebanon. While the summer holidays are coming to an end (some of the private students have already returned to school), the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOVO) has not yet …