BEIRUT — Independent MP Ihab Matar on Tuesday proposed a draft law that would enable the government to pay entrance fees for public school students, as the school year is set to begin in October with fees having increased sixfold.
Students and teachers say they welcome the proposal, though assistance for struggling schoolteachers remains in the lurch.
In a press conference at Parliament, Matar said that his draft law comes as students of public schools are the most in need of such an initiative.
"It is not acceptable after what happened in the last [few] years that some parents are not able to put their kids in public schools," Matar said.
The Education Ministry increased the entrance fees in public schools this year from the equivalent of $10 at the parallel market rate to around $60, amid the country's unprecedented economic collapse.
Matar said that waiving these fees would cost the government around $20 million (around $60 per student).
An Education Ministry spokesperson told L'Orient Today that students in the primary years of public schools are already exempt from paying the entrance fee as per a law passed in the 1990s which leaves it to high school students.
Matar's proposal was submitted in an "urgent law" which means that it doesn't need the approval of the parliamentary committees to be voted on as it is directly sent to the plenary session.
He also said that he asked Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to hold a session in order to approve this law as the school year is set to begin.
However, legislative sessions are few and far between amid a presidential vacuum after Michel Aoun left office on Oct. 31 with no successor in place. Some opposition blocs have boycotted sessions due to the vacuum, leading to a lack of quorum.
Hasan Ahmad, a grade 12 student from the Hussein Maktabe High School in Beirut's southern suburbs, told L'Orient Today that he considers the increase in the fee for this year "a necessary evil because last year the school lacked electricity and important resources for the functioning of the school."
He said he has two classmates affected by the rise in fees: one is working at a vegetable store so that he can pay the entrance fee as his parents are jobless. Another cannot afford the fee and does not know whether she will end up attending school this year.
For Ahmad, Matar's law "is important because it guarantees that all the students from the [low-income] class can join the school year."
Asked about the situation for teachers who are also struggling amid the economic crisis, Matar told L'Orient Today following his press conference that the teachers can find other sources of income, such as additional work hours in private schools, whereas students are the most in immediate need to start the year.
"Without the students, there are no schools," Matar said.
Mountaha Fawaz, a representative for contract public school teachers, told L'Orient Today that the draft law is "positive, but the government should also cover the cost of books and stationary."
"There were students last year who were unable to buy their books," she added.
However, Fawaz said that the decision should be expanded by also assisting teachers. "Both the students and the teachers are in bad condition... Until now, we haven't received the raise we were promised," Fawaz said, referring to the raise promised by the Education Ministry to increase teachers' salaries by 50 percent.
An Education Ministry spokesperson told L'Orient Today that, for now, there is still no scheduled date for the beginning of the school year.
"They don't want public schools to exist, they are money cravers," Fawaz accused. "Each of those decision-makers has their own private school so it would be bad for them if there was a competitive free school."
On Wednesday the minister of Education announced that the start date for public schools has been pushed back to 9 October.
BEIRUT — Independent MP Ihab Matar on Tuesday proposed a draft law that would enable the government to pay entrance fees for public school students, as the school year is set to begin in October with fees having increased sixfold.Students and teachers say they welcome the proposal, though assistance for struggling schoolteachers remains in the lurch.In a press conference at Parliament, Matar...