Public school students, who constitute slightly less than a third of the country’s students, returned to classes on Oct. 3. The new school year began in total confusion and disarray.
Over the past year, public school teachers have been on strike amid an acute social, political, and financial crisis, calling for a salary increase amid the sharp collapse of the national currency.
Despite promises of salary readjustments for those on the payroll and an increase in the hourly wage for those on contract, along with an exceptional monthly allowance of $130, many points remain ambiguous.
The Ministry of Education, which appears reluctant to make a statement, did not keep all its promises last year due to a lack of funds.
Thousands of contractual teachers were left to fend for themselves, with no aid or transport allowances, and due salaries, which have already lost their value, were paid several months later.
It was in this context that Nisrine Chahine, part of the union and an ardent defender of the rights of contractual teachers, was dismissed after 11 years of service.
Why? Because her services were no longer needed. But it is well-known that Chahine, who took part in the 2019 popular protest movement, appears to pose a problem because of her comments denouncing corruption and clientelism.
The dismissal prompted several teachers to go on strike on the second day of school and to organize a sit-in yesterday in front of the Ministry of Education in Beirut.
It is in this troubling context that the kindergarten, primary and complementary (middle school) classes started on Monday.
Secondary schools are still waiting for the goodwill of its teachers’ union, which is due to hold its general assembly on Wednesday, to vote on a possible resumption of classes on Oct. 11.
For the 336,000 public school students who are coming out of three years of almost non-existent education, marked by popular protests, the COVID-19 crisis, the Beirut port explosion, and the teachers' strikes, there is deep concern about losing the fourth year of education.
In the absence of information on the funds collected by the Education Ministry from the international community, here’s what we know:
Who goes to public schools?
The registration of students has been extended until Oct. 20. Priority is given in order of preference to Lebanese students, then to students of a Lebanese mother, and finally to stateless students of Lebanese origin. Foreign students come last in the order of registration.
Students who have been enrolled in the public school system for more than five consecutive years are eligible to register for the Lebanese program in the morning. This includes Palestinian students residing in Lebanon before the Syrian crisis and who do not have access to UNRWA schools, non-Lebanese students from countries that are not experiencing a migration crisis, and siblings of non-Lebanese students who have already registered.
The number of Syrian refugees enrolled in public schools is about 150,000, according to estimates by the Center for Educational Research and Development.
Syrian students are mainly registered in the afternoon in a special curriculum. They have the possibility to enroll in the public secondary schools offering a Lebanese curriculum, but only according to availability and on the condition that there are not less than 10 Lebanese students per class.
Under no circumstances can Syrian students from elementary, primary, and complementary schools be transferred to the classical morning curriculum, whether they come from the public school or the private sector.
School hours and pace
The public school week consists of four school days, Monday through Thursday, with the possibility for principals to work on Friday or Saturday. They must, if necessary, give the students another day off during the week. The duration of a school period is 45 minutes. The Kindergarten students’ day consists of six periods, that of the elementary education’s students consists of seven periods, and eight periods for the secondary education’s students.
Faced with the collapse of the Lebanese lira, which hit a record low of LL39,000 to the dollar in September, the monthly salary of teachers (like all civil servants) has been multiplied by three. This decision was adopted in the 2022 budget law, which was signed Tuesday [Oct.4] by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and still needs to be c0-signed by President Michel Aoun. Every civil servant teacher will also receive a monthly sum of $130, payable in local currency at the Sayrafa daily exchange rate, as well as a transportation allowance of LL95,000 per working day.
Contract teachers are much less endowed, as they are generally paid only three times a year, in general. They are only paid if they teach, regardless of whether there is a strike, holidays or if there is an usual event beyond their control. The authorities recently promised that secondary school teachers will get an hourly wage increase to LL 180,000 and the elementary school teachers will receive a LL100,000 rise in the hourly wage. They should also receive a monthly welfare sum of $130, which will depend on the number of hours taught. Last year, despite promises, they were not paid transportation allowances. Their return to school this year was contingent on receiving their monthly salary in the context of the financial collapse. But there is no guarantee that this measure will actually be adopted.
Public education in figures
Contrary to expectations, the Center for Educational Research and Development (CRDP) which is linked to the Ministry of Education, indicated that there were only 336,301 students in public education out of a total of 1,072,925 students in 2021-2022 (without including the afternoon curriculum reserved for Syrian students). This means that the number of students declined compared to the 2020-2021 academic year during which there were 384,741, which is slightly lower than in 2019-2020, when there were 342,303 students.
Also, the number of teachers has steadily declined since 2019-2020. That same year, public education consisted of 40,796 teachers (19,323 civil servants and 21,473 working on contract basis). The following year, they dropped to 39,516 (18,465 civil servants and 21,051 working on contract basis). In the 2021-2022 academic year, there are only 37,139 (17,203 civil servants and 19,936 working on contract basis). This decline is not limited to the public sector. It also involves the entire education sector, including private, semi-private and UNRWA schools (for Palestinian refugees), which lost more than 11,000 teachers in three years.
These figures were provided by the CRDP, which are the most recent reported figures for the 2021-2022 school year to L’Orient-Le Jour.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.