In Lebanon, the financial and economic crisis, political instability and the health situation have taken a heavy toll on an already fragile education system. The start of the next school year promises to be a huge challenge, but those involved in the sector, NGOs and parents refuse to give up. Faced with the urgency of the situation, new initiatives are emerging to prevent students from dropping out of school, one after the other.
Many families have chosen private education, despite the financial burden this represents on household income. But the financial crisis has reshuffled the cards.
The gap between private and public education systems in Lebanon is wide. Historically, 70% of students are enrolled in private schools: these institutions reflect Lebanon’s multiculturalism and the quality of education is recognized, even if tuition fees sometimes require families to make sacrifices. Public education is seriously lagging behind, with 30% of the students attending public schools but does not seem to be able to do more. Due to lack of investment, the infrastructure is aging and the schools are saturated. Between these two alternatives remain the “semi-free” schools, whose survival is threatened by the suspension of state subsidies since 2015.
In the current financial context, the recent increase in schooling, the relative drop in salaries and the increase in unemployment, make the private option difficult to consider for many households. The State does not have the necessary funds to bring the public sector up to standard and to provide good conditions for the 40,000 or so students who left the private sector this year due to lack of resources. Added to this are the blockages during protests and the sanitary confinement. With their backs against the wall, school principals, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations are trying to come up with solutions.
On the front line, school principals are trying to make sure that their schools can open in September.
Charlie Eghnatios is a Doctor of Education, a kindergarten teacher and a member of the board of directors in a private Catholic school in the Tripoli region in the north of the country. She has been teaching for 20 years and is now facing a double challenge: to preserve the schooling of all her students and to guarantee the employment of teachers for the next school year.
In the absence of guidelines from the Ministry of Education, the management has put together a recovery plan for her school. She is contacting each family, calling all the students’ parents, to find a common ground and encourage them to re-enroll firmly for next year. Only then will she be able to establish her budget and keep the teachers on the job. The timetable is tight and this plan must be in place by July 4, when it will no longer be possible to adjust the number of teachers.
At the same time, she and her team are preparing two programmes: one for classical teaching, the other adapted to distance learning if, for health or other reasons, the school is unable to open its classrooms.
In its current state, digital is more of a palliative than a long-term solution for education.
Yet, some have considered distance-learning courses. Three young Lebanese from France, Léa and Joy Abousleiman and Paul Nachawati are behind the “Coup de pouce virtuel” project. An online platform that connects volunteer tutors and students in Lebanon. The aim of this project is to ensure the continuity of teaching for students in this complicated year: between the demonstrations and the confinement imposed by the Covid-19 epidemic, schools were only able to accommodate their students for 3 to 4 months.
Still, these initiatives, some of which were conceived in the urgency of the health crisis, cannot be considered as long-term solutions. And not all students are equipped to benefit from them. They do, however, offer a glimpse of what can be done with less restricted means and a longer development period. They also offer an alternative and make it possible to avoid a gap in education, which sometimes leads to permanent dropouts.
Locally, NGOs have an important supporting role to play during this challenging situation.
In certain regions of Lebanon, more rural or impoverished by the crisis, resources do not allow parents to consider private education and the public infrastructure is not adapted to the demand. Some families then prefer not to send their children to school at all. Nationwide, the school dropout rate is 10%, but it is much higher in these particular areas.
Aygline de Clinchamps works in the Tripoli region where she is seeing the direct impact of the current financial situation: almost 50% of the population now lives below the poverty line. With her non-profit organization, Michael Home, she is looking for private sponsorships to finance the school fees of children who have dropped out of school. Until now, funding has come exclusively from private individuals: each donor sponsors one child. The funds are sent directly to the school because the organization’s action focuses mainly on education, even if the general needs and the demand from NGOs have exploded in recent months.
In the longer term, the organization would also like to participate in the rehabilitation and maintenance of schools. These development projects are for the moment taking a back seat, given the urgency of the situation. While waiting for a structured recovery plan at the national level, for the credits requested by schools in deficit, for the return of subsidies or even their extension to the private sector, and for the payment of salaries, actors of the educational sector are trying to face up to the situation and offer alternatives.
Against a backdrop of demands, teachers, headmasters, members of associations and parents refuse to let their children pay the price. The context is tense and the confinement has not made dialogue between the different parties any easier. Yet all agree that educated youth will be the key to avoiding this kind of situation in the future.
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