Lebanon News: Empty classrooms in Lebanon are a sign of the long-term harm caused by the turmoil

photography of school room

On a recent school day in Beirut, the Rene Mouawad High School was deserted, and the lights were turned off in the classrooms. This is how all of Lebanon’s public schools have been for the better part of the last three months. The striking teachers were holding a demonstration not too far away, in front of the Education Ministry.

Over one hundred educators participated in the demonstration in front of the ministry, where they demanded salary rises while obstructing traffic and brandishing banners. Nisreen Chahine, the leader of the union representing independent contractor teachers, is quoted as saying, “We are done with charity.” “At this point, we are no longer open to negotiation. They should either pay us what they owe us or leave the premises.”

The lecturers delivered lectures in which they demanded that authorities meet with them in person. But, as is customary throughout these ongoing protests, no one from the ministry made an appearance. After a long period of time, the instructors eventually packed up their things and left.

Lebanon’s educational institutions are collapsing under the weight of the country’s economic collapse; yet, the political leadership of the country, which is responsible for the catastrophe due to decades of corruption and mismanagement, is reluctant to take any steps to remedy the issue. Since the crisis began in late 2019, nearly three-quarters of Lebanon’s 6 million people have been thrown into poverty. Their assets have been vanishing as the value of the currency has decreased and inflation has increased at one of the highest rates in the world.

The majority of the students in the country have been out of school for many months, and many of them have been out of school much longer than that. The majority of the country’s teachers went on strike in December, claiming that they can no longer make a living off of their wages. The labour force in Lebanon was historically renowned for its high level of education and expertise. But now a whole generation is not receiving an education, which will have a negative impact in the long run on the country’s chances for its economy and its future.

Teachers went on strike because their salaries, which are measured in Lebanese pounds, had dropped to a level that makes it impossible for them to meet rent and other essential obligations. Before to the financial crisis, one dollar was worth 1,500 pounds, but as of right now, one dollar is worth 100,000 pounds. Even after many increases in pay since 2019, the majority of teachers still only make the equivalent of around one dollar an hour. These days, dollar signs are common sights at supermarkets and other types of retail establishments.

The teachers are requesting an increase in their salary, as well as a compensation for their commuting costs, and health coverage. As the government said it lacked the resources to cover the full cost of transportation, all it could give was a partial reimbursement. This Monday, some teachers went back to work, which allowed schools to partially reopen; nevertheless, the majority of instructors elected to continue striking.

Even before the crisis, the amount of money that Lebanon invested in its public schools was inadequate. According to the World Bank, Lebanon has one of the lowest rates of public expenditure on education in the world in the year 2020, when measured as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). When the 2022 budget was approved in October, education was allotted 3.6 trillion Lebanese lira, which was around $90 million at the time. This was less than half of the $182 million expenditure for education from a donor-funded humanitarian programme.

Instead, the government has depended for many years on the education provided by private schools and charitable organisations. Humanitarian organisations needed funding to pay employees and maintain their ageing infrastructure so that they could continue their work. Historically, almost two-thirds of children in Lebanon attended private schools; however, in recent years, as a result of rising expenses associated with operating private schools, the number of students enrolled in these institutions has decreased by around 400,000. Because of rising fuel prices, both public and private schools are having trouble paying their electric bills.

Even before the strike, there were more than 700,000 children in Lebanon who were not attending school due to the economic situation. A large number of these youngsters were refugees from Syria. According to UNICEF, as a result of the strike, the number of children participating in the strike increased by 500,000.

According to Ettie Higgins, the UNICEF deputy representative for Lebanon, as reported by the Associated Press, this implies that “we now see children aged 10, 12, 14, and they are not able to even be able to write their own names or write fundamental words.” This Monday, UNICEF announced that it had donated over $14 million to assist more than 1,000 public schools in paying their workers.

Rana Ghalib, a mother of four, expressed her concern about how it makes her feel to watch her children lounging about the house instead of being in school. Because of the past delays in his education, her son, who was 14 at the time, was required to start over in the sixth grade.

According to what Ghalib told the Associated Press, “The classrooms are virtually vacant because the instructors are demanding their rights, and they’re dark because there is no fuel.”

In order to qualify for a bailout package worth $3 billion from the International Monetary Fund and to make development assistance available, the international community has been exerting pressure on the political leaders of Lebanon to carry out extensive reforms in the country’s economy, financial system, and governance. The political class, which has been in control of the nation since 1990, has been unable to go forward with reforms because, according to opponents, any changes would threaten its hold on power and riches. As a result of the political impasse, the country has been without a president for several months, and the functioning of the government has been reduced to that of a caretaker.

In the meantime, education is joining the ranks of other failing institutions in Lebanon, such as banking, health, and the electrical sector. This might result in long-term problems for Lebanon, which has traditionally relied on its highly educated and professional population that lives abroad to send remittances back to the country, where they are used to support families, invest, and put dollars into the banking system. During the height of the economic crisis, a large number of talented individuals left Lebanon, leaving remittances as the country’s sole remaining source of economic support.

The damaged education system would further “deteriorate the social fabric” of Lebanon and increase poverty, according to Hussein Cheaito, an economist and nonresident fellow at The Tahrir Center for Middle East Policy, a think tank located in Washington.

According to what he told the Associated Press, “this will have an influence on the longer-term growth of the economy.” “What this ultimately means is that there will be less competition for employment in the future… (and) have a negative impact on the job market as a whole.”

During this time, when Ghalib’s children should be concentrating on their schoolwork, she finds them instead watching television and occupying themselves with their mobile devices. She stated that even her daughter, who is just nine years old, is aware that her future may be in peril.

“I want to be a doctor, but how can I do that if I’m sitting at home?” asked my youngest daughter. “How can I do that if I’m sitting at home?” Ghalib stated. “I have no idea what to say to her,” I said.

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