BEIRUT — Public school teachers held multiple sit-ins across Lebanon on Friday morning, including at the Ministry of Finance headquarters in Beirut, to demand an increase in their salaries, which have still not been adjusted since the start of the economic crisis in 2019 and the sharp depreciation of the Lebanese pound.
"Going back to school will be impossible," a spokesperson for the Technical Teachers' Union warned while participating in one of the protests, in Beirut. "The solution lies in raising salaries," he said, calling on outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati to pay overdue salaries from August. He also accused caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil of "keeping the file in the drawers."
Speaking about the education crisis in Lebanon, President Michel Aoun stressed in a tweet the need not to "put parents of students under strain," while many private schools charge part of the school fees in dollars. "All school administrations are called upon to approach the educational situation taking into consideration that access to education is a sacred right," he added, during a meeting with the secretary general of Catholic schools, Father Youssef Nasr, and Sister Bassima al-Khoury from the General Secretariat.
In order to "save what is left of the teaching force," the spokesperson urged salaries to be paid partly in dollars so that teachers may receive at least $300 per month. He also called for increased transportation allowances, which would be adjusted regularly according to rapidly shifting fuel prices. In addition, the faculty has asked for medical care benefits, a readjustment of the salaries for contractual workers and an increase in the budget for technical and public school expenses.
Integration of Syrian students with Lebanese
"We refuse to allow Syrian refugees to be integrated in classes with Lebanese students during morning classes," the spokesperson went on, expressing concerns that the additional students could soon join their classes. Several schools provide afternoon classes for Syrian refugees, funded by a UN aid program.
While some Syrian students already attend regular classes with Lebanese students, the majority of them attend separate afternoon classes, for which the Education Ministry receives international funding. Out of Lebanon's 1,237 public primary and secondary schools, 358 have opened a second shift in the afternoon for Syrian students, according to the ministry's five-year plan released last year. In the 2021-22 school year, there were 43,386 non-Lebanese students enrolled in regular morning classes and 151,774 in the "second shift" classes.
The ministry and UN officials have denied rumors that they plan to close the second shift and integrate the students into morning shift classes in the coming school year.
A UNICEF spokesperson told L'Orient Today: "UNICEF has not specifically advocated for the inclusion of second shift students into the first shift. The Government of Lebanon is ultimately responsible for how it organizes formal public education." Caretaker Education Minister Abbas Halabi said last week that "Syrian learners will not integrate into formal education morning classes, and this issue is not on the table."
Demonstrations across Lebanon
Public school teachers also demonstrated in the south, in Mount Lebanon and in Baalbeck in the Bekaa Valley, demanding similar pay raises. According to a report by our correspondent in the Bekaa, Sarah Abdallah, the directors of public schools urging an increase in school expenses.
The education sector is one of the most affected by the multidimensional collapse of Lebanon over the past three years. Many teachers have left the profession, forcing schools to recruit instructors who are not specialized in the subjects they teach. Observers fear a deterioration in the standard of national education.