Lebanon’s Growing Educational Woes

Lebanese Schools Struggle to Cope with Coronavirus and Financial Deprevation

The situation in Lebanon has been deteriorating for many years now, and with the current looming financial and economic circumstances in addition to the recent pandemic, there is no doubt that the education sector, among many others, has received a harsh hit. 

It is no secret that the education sector has been crumbling down for several years now. Many private schools have shut their doors permanently for lack of funds, and thousands of teachers lost their jobs and still await long overdue paychecks from previous employers who promised to give them their salaries “once the economic crisis improves”. 

The real and fundamental problem is that parents resort to admitting their children to private schools instead of public ones for the sake of getting a quality education in exchange for the ridiculously high tuition fees which those schools demand. Parents have lost faith in most public schools due to over-crowded classes, negligence, and the lack of the Ministry of Education’s interest in any attempts of improving the learning conditions in public schools by introducing more resources such as online access, smart boards, and so on.   

It is fundamentally evident that the Lebanese education system is outdated and is in deseperate need for reform. It still depends on old methods of teaching, and most schools have no internet access in classes and no interactive ways of teaching as well as learning.  

THE STRUGGLE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Majalla spoke to a teacher working in one of Lebanon’s secondary public schools who addressed many crucial issues which most public schools face.  She explains that despite the economic situation, the school year started very well; however, that changed after the revolution of October 17th. The school was shut for about a month, and when teaching resumed, students behaved rebelliously and irresponsibly. They refused to attend their classes claiming that teachers are not taking into consideration the country’s situation and are giving them plenty of assignments which they are not in the mood to do. Just when this rebellious spirit doused, the coronavirus pandemic started. This is when the situation worsened: The Ministry of Education resorted to online teaching, and every now and then, the ministry sent a new teaching program to be used for teaching. As a result, parents understandably protested due to the high prices of internet which they cannot afford, there’s also the nearly non-existent electricity. At a certain point, teachers exerted time and effort in preparing their online materials, only to have one or two students actually attend the online class. 

What is even more confusing and frustrating is the fact that the minister of education made announcements which further complicated matters instead of resolving them. For instance, he once announced that online learning is not mandatory and will not be counted, which made students totally lose interest, but also insisted teachers would send what has been taught weekly to the ministry. Thus, part-time teachers that are paid by session will certainly not get paid since students stopped attending classes. Those teachers are paid per semester, and till now they haven’t received any payments. 

Then came the dilemma regarding cancelling the official exams and ending the school year as the ministry seemingly couldn’t decide how students would be promoted to their next grade. First it was suggested that students will be promoted to the next academic year without any conditions. Later students were supposed to be promoted based on their grades during the first semester of the school year. It was then suggested that students will be promoted based on their first semester grades in addition to 20% of their online attendance. This connundrum poses a crucial question: how is it possible to include online attendance in the students’ grades if the MInister himself said that their attendance is not mandatory?

Logic dictates that all students should be promoted to the next class  and official exams would be cancelled due to this pandemic, and this is exactly what happened. All students were promoted, and public schools ended their online teaching on June 13th and ended the school year on June 25th while private schools were left to decide when to end theirs.

But some wonder: `Is it fair to promote a student who’s barely above average just as if they were an achieving student? Was the Ministry of Education’s response efficient and adequate to start with? Could anything have been done differently?

 




Minister of Education Tareq Majzoub arrives for the inaugural cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda east of capital Beirut on January 22, 2020. (Getty)

THE PRESSURE IN ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS

A few days ago, the ministry of education stated that all students are required to register for the next academic school year 2020-2021 between June 16th and 30th. The issue is that with the financial struggles which parents are facing as they cannot afford to pay any fees. Parents are calling schools and asking them to reserve a seat for their kids for next year while frankly admitting that they can’t afford to pay any fees right now. This is why a huge amount of students are moving from private schools to public ones. Can public schools handle all the pressure? If social distancing will be implemented during the next academic year, this means that each class will hold a maximum amount of 15 students. With the current high demand on public schools, this means that there might be a need to open morning and evening classes to accommodate all students, which by default requires doubling the amount of staff putting more financial pressure on the Lebanese government. 

“ONLINE TEACHING PROVED TO BE A BIG LIE!”

Amidst all this chaos, one thing was sadly made clear: online teaching is inefficient. Due to the financial situation, not all families were able to afford internet service fees which are among the most expensive in the world. Moreover, not every household can afford to buy laptops or computers. One must also take into consideration the long power cuts which Lebanon is notoriously famous for. 

Most teachers were certainly not trained to conduct online teaching, and they did not attain any help or guidance from the Ministry of Education. They were left to fight their own battles. Online teaching proved to be unreliable as well. There was an incident where a teacher corrected 20 duplicate exams. Other students resorted to cheating during an assignment or exam where a family member was present nearby giving out correct answers to help. 

WERE PRIVATE SCHOOLS DOING ANY BETTER

Some private schools resorted to online teaching while others thought it was sufficient enough to upload videos related to the lessons for students to watch. This was a cause of concern for many parents who argued that this was not what they had expected for the amount of money they were paying. Though other parents were cooperative, they eventually lost interest as well. 

Although teachers worked hard to make the most out of this frustrating situation with their available resources, they received little to no help from their school or the Ministry of Education. Moreover, some teachers received only half of their salary(not on time of course) while others haven’t been paid since the beginning of this ongoing crisis. When teachers contact the administration for news about their wages, the only reply they get is that schools are waiting for parents to pay the tuition fees of the current school year and the registration fees for the next academic year. This means that teachers’  financial problems won’t be resolved any time soon. 

In conclusion, who is the real victim? Is the victim a teacher who is struggling to give 100% of her time and effort to give online classes with limited resources, no previous training, and no income at all? Or is the victim the student who somehow lost a whole school year while trying to adapt to this new inefficient teaching method? Or are parents the victims of having to pay tuition fees for a service, which was not fully delivered, as well as electronic devices and internet that they can barely afford? What about school directors? Will they be able to pay their teachers for a job they claim wasn’t done effectively?

There is no doubt that the next academic year holds a lot of uncertainty and unclarity. That is why it is plausible to ask when will the Ministry of Education step up and reveal a reasonable and well-thought plan that may show any kind of progress?