After paying for gas, the average-earning Lebanese teacher has only $3 a month to live on

A new study aims to put pressure on the authorities and donors to develop an education strategy worthy of the name.

After paying for gas, the average-earning Lebanese teacher has only $3 a month to live on

This table compares the average monthly income of a teacher, which is $131, and the average monthly cost of travel, which is $128.

Lebanon’s Education Ministry is forcing the country’s tens of thousands of public and private school teachers into ever “further austerity” as the 2022-21 school year begins, according to a study published last month by a Lebanese research group.

The “primary strategy for dealing with the crisis has relied on half-baked solutions to avoid teachers’ strikes,” the study, published by the Centre for Lebanese Studies at the Lebanese American University said.

“The ministry has been bargaining with teachers by offering them trivial financial compensations while threatening them with disciplinary actions if they fail to come to school due to the unaffordable cost of transportation. ”

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This dismaying description is at the heart of the study, jointly conducted by researchers Mohammad Hammoud and Maha Shuayb, who sound the alarm.

“Children in Lebanon cannot afford to lose another academic year,” Hammoud and Shuayb warn in the title of their study.

No plan for the education sector

According to the study, researchers hoped to “apply pressure” on the Lebanese government, Education Ministry and donors to develop a strategy worthy of the name. This is the second year in a row the group issues a study on the impacts of Lebanon’s economic spiral on the education sector.

“The start of the school year is imminent. And still no plan for the education sector. Only last-minute solutions are proposed, without any impact or feasibility study,” Maha Shuayb said when contacted by L’Orient-Le Jour.

“The management of education has been lamentable for so many years. First at the level of the ministry, its chaotic structure, its lack of staff, the departure of its director-general, Fadi Yarak, and the ambiguity of its decision-making power,” she added.

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Worse still, “huge amounts of money have been given to education. These sums have been spent without results, without transparency, without investigation to identify waste and theft, and without anyone being held accountable,” she said, pointing the finger at the Lebanese authorities on the one hand and international organizations and donors on the other.

“Donors are partly to blame for not demanding greater transparency and for not challenging the ministry’s continued failure to deliver on its promises over the past 30 years,” Shuayb said.

Authorities must take action before it is too late for students, according to the study.

“Children in Lebanon will lose a fourth year of their academic learning,” the study warns. Students have already lost time due to the 2019 protests, COVID-19 lockdowns and teachers’ strikes.

With these losses in mind, the research organization conducted an online survey of 2,700 parents (89 percent with children in private schools and 11 percent with children in public schools) and 1,512 teachers (57 percent in private schools and 43 percent in public schools) across the country’s eight governorates.

Researchers also held a roundtable discussion with representatives of different teachers’ unions, as well as parents, education stakeholders and civil society members, to discuss the results and develop recommendations for a successful school year.

This table details the impact of the crisis on teachers: 89 percent say that the crisis has affected their psychological well-being; 69 percent, their motivation at work; 46 percent, their relationship with school management; and 28 percent, their teaching performance.

Teachers’ salaries equal to $131 per month

For teachers, the impact of the crisis has been dramatic; their salaries have been rendered largely worthless since the national currency began to collapse in 2019. No drastic measures have been taken to compensate for the loss of their purchasing power, apart from a monthly lump sum compensation of $90 per public sector teacher, which is far from sufficient.

Since the depreciation of the Lebanese lira, which reached a record low of LL39,000 to the dollar on Tuesday, “salaries paid in local currency have lost more than 90 percent of their value,” according to the Centre for Lebanese Studies report.

Despite the financial compensation that some teachers have received, the low salaries no longer cover their basic expenses.

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According to respondents, ‘the average teacher's monthly income is $131, while their monthly commute costs $128, leaving them with $3 to live on for the entire month.”

This situation has caused 66 percent of teachers to work a second job to cover their living expenses and two-thirds to borrow money to cover their basic needs.

Seventy-three percent of teachers said they had trouble paying their bills. This is hardly surprising, given that monthly electricity and internet bills represent 139 percent of their average monthly income.

Even worse, the financial crisis has deprived teachers of access to basic needs, with almost all of them, 99 percent, reporting that the crisis has limited their access to medical services.

The high cost of transportation also forced 60 percent of teachers to miss school days.

As a result, 20 percent of them were disciplined for absenteeism and denied the additional monthly allowance of $90 (normally given to all public school teachers).

This has negatively affected their motivation to work and their psychological well-being, as well as their relationship with their management, the study points out.

This additional allowance, which was supposed to compensate for the salary devaluation, was described as poor by more than three quarters of the teachers (86 percent) surveyed.

This is because only public school teachers were granted this compensation, while a large proportion of contract and casual teachers were denied it.

Similarly, the performance of the private and public education unions was judged unsatisfactory by half of those interviewed, as these organizations did not provide adequate support to teachers.

The failure of the stakeholders to respond appropriately to the crisis has driven many teachers to despair.

As many as 73 percent of teachers are planning to leave the education sector and three quarters are considering leaving Lebanon.

“The drastic decline in the quality of life of teachers is one of the major challenges in education today,” Shuayb said.

“The only way out of the problem is to raise teachers’ salaries once and for all, and not just give them a few subsidies,” she added.

In this table, we can see the abyss that separates the average monthly household income, which is around $462, and the average annual tuition and transport costs, which amount to $2,355.

Parents face dollarization of school fees

Another major challenge for the sector is the declining purchasing power of parents, whose income is mainly Lebanese lira.

They simply cannot afford to meet the demand of private schools to pay part of the tuition fees in fresh dollars, in addition to the fees in Lebanese lira, according to the researcher.

Including the average tuition fee per year per child ($1,037) and school transportation ($1,318), parents of students must pay an average of $2,355 per child to attend private school, the study points out.

Despite the red lines imposed by the Education Ministry, seven out of 10 parents reported that their child’s school required that a portion of the tuition be paid in “fresh” dollars, in addition to the increase in Lebanese lira fees.

In the face of this significant increase, the average monthly household income reported by parents is limited to $462, which means that 42 percent of their annual income is spent on a child’s schooling — these figures exclude additional costs such as books and stationery.

With the increase in tuition, half of the parents surveyed reported that they had recently transferred their child from a private school to a public school, with 87 percent indicating that they could no longer afford the tuition fees.

All of these challenges threaten children’s educational futures as 72 percent of parents reported that they may no longer be able to afford their child’s education and 10 percent indicated that their child may have to enter the workforce early.

The impact of the crisis on the future of the child in figures: 72 percent of parents could no longer afford to take on the education of their children, 10 percent of parents expect their children to enter the labor market earlier, 10 percent believe that there is no impact and 8 percent believe that the crisis could have other impacts.

The consequences for students are devastating. Children in Lebanon, especially Syrians, have missed out on learning over the past three years, which may jeopardize their academic future.

According to one-third of the surveyed parents and teachers, the crisis has reduced children’s academic performance and overall psychological well-being, with 10 percent dropping out and 15 percent repeating grades.

Similarly, the economic crisis has affected schools’ ability to operate.

Three-quarters of teachers reported that their schools were not quite ready to start a new school year due to fuel and staff shortages, which may have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning for the fourth year in a row.

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. 

Lebanon’s Education Ministry is forcing the country’s tens of thousands of public and private school teachers into ever “further austerity” as the 2022-21 school year begins, according to a study published last month by a Lebanese research group. The “primary strategy for dealing with the crisis has relied on half-baked solutions to avoid teachers’ strikes,” the study, published by...