Public Education in Lebanon: The Pyramid Stands on its Top
The sector of education and Public Education in Lebanon is afflicted by a state of deterioration and decline that may lead to devastating results as to threaten its existence, or to linger in a state of clinical death that would require an ingenious erudite to reassume its natural role in producing a decent education that goes hand in hand with the technological development and the modern teaching methods, so that he could advance the country to keep pace with evolution. This situation has its aspects and reasons, and it proposes solutions that require flexible organizational forms capable of designing a challenging program able to recruit the most popular segments benefiting from the development of education, to prevent the collapse of this sector, and to boost its level to be in the first place in terms of intake and quality.
1- The Aspects of Deterioration
A- The dominance of the Private Teaching Sector:
The first manifestation of deterioration is the horrifying decline of the average of the Lebanese students enrolled in Public Education compared with the average of those enrolled in Private Education. The Statistical Bulletin of the Educational Center for Research and Development indicates that the percentage of the students enrolled in Public Education has declined in the last 15 years. Thus, based on the significant upward rise of the ratio of the Public School students that constituted 33% of the total number of Lebanese students between 1996-1997 and 2001-2002, in comparison with 67% of students enrolled in the Private Education sector in its both parts free and non-free, and that now reached approximately 39% for Public Education and 61% for Private Education, the researcher perceives a decline that raises many questions about the fate of Public Education. The statistics for the academic year 2004-2005 indicate a decline in the number of pupils in the Public School which constituted 36.82% of the total number of students, and this decline continued to reach 28.4% in the academic year 2014-2015, which requires a serious stand to prevent the collapse of the Public School, as well as to restore balance to the quality of Public Education.
B- Sectarian Education:
The second of these aspects is shown in the prevalence of sectarian education on the majority of students after each sect has vertically established its educational institutions, from kindergarten to university, based on laws that deliberately sprinkled a semi-balanced sectarian incitement, at the end of which the sects’ parishes have secluded themselves in their educational institutions.
According to the Statistical Bulletin of the Educational Center, the private fee-paying schools in the two suburbs of Beirut, as an example, attract 18% of the total number of students in Lebanon, while 2.6% of students are affiliated to public schools and 2.8% of them are affiliated to non-fee-paying private schools. This means that Private Education in the suburbs of Beirut alone includes more than one fifth of Lebanon’s students. It is no secret that this education has been mostly sectarian, dividing the society vertically and posing serious threats to the national affiliation.
C- Reversal of the Educational Pyramid:
Perhaps the most important feature of the educational institution success is, in my point of view, the provision of the higher educational stages by the lower stages of the educational institutions, as to provide enough students. As a matter of fact, when each educational stage fails to provide the higher stage with its need of students, the educational institution is at risk of collapse. The alarming issue about the public school is the large disparity between the public and private sectors in terms of the distribution of students over the educational stages, as statistics indicate that the pyramid of Public Education stands on its head, which threatens its survival as a productive sector and raises the appetite of those who are conspiring against it and do not stop calling for the privatization of education and endorsing it to the private sector. This came after the failure to call for what was known as the educational guarantee in the nineties of the last century, especially with the emergence of “Troika” which seized the State institutions and facilities. The official statistics for the 2015-2016 academic year show that 3.9% of Lebanon’s students are enrolled to preschool in public schools, versus 15% in private schools. This may be due to the policy of the State which determines the age of entry to the public school at the end of age 4 which should be completed before the end of December of each year, while kindergartens in private schools receive children at the age of 3, and even more, the private nurseries welcome children at the age of 2. This legal discrimination deprives the citizens of the popular social class from the equal opportunities and prevents them from entering school at the same age as the affluent children, which leads to school dropout or to paving the way between the Public School and the Vocational Education, without ensuring the common scientific link that provides a safe and sound exchange between Public Education and Vocational Education. The statistical table about the distribution per stage and grade of Public Education pupils according to the learning status upon registration for the academic year 2015-2016 shows that the first kindergarten grade consisted of 7367 students automatically elevated to a higher class versus 13709 students enrolled into Home Education, and those elevated students had come from Private Education. The second kindergarten grade consisted of 16415 elevated students and 5073 homeschooled students. The great disaster resides in the fact that 3529 children entered Grade 1 (EB1) coming directly from home. Imagine what the first grade in Elementary School would look like with this unequal mix of students coming to school for the first time: classmates who had spent a whole year at school, with other classmates who had spent two years, along with repeaters who make up a significant proportion that reaches 16% in the first stage of basic education, although students are automatically elevated to upper classes, while the percentage of the repeaters of the Second Cycle classes ranges between 20 and 25%, and this percentage reaches 29.5% in Grade 7 and 19.42% in the first secondary grade (Grade 10).
As for school delay in Public Education, it constitutes a high percentage which is gradually increasing each time the students move to a higher class. The Annual Statistical Bulletin for the academic year 2015-2016 indicates that the number of delayed students in the first year of Primary School reached 7489 students out of 22287 students, the equivalent of 33.6%, among which 2078 students were delayed for two years and above, 426 students were between 9 and 14 years old. The delay percentage in the Public School reached 51% in Grade 6, among which 60% of students were delayed for more than two years, which stands for 30.6% of the total number of sixth graders. In general, the delay percentage in kindergarten was 9.4%, whereas in the First and Second Cycles of Primary Education it was 43.9%. In the Third Cycle of Basic Education, the delay percentage reached 52.7% in the same academic year, more than half of which were delayed for two years and above, while the same percentage reached in the Secondary Cycle 36.5%, among which around 40% of students were delayed for two years and above. It is worth noting that most private schools do not accept repeaters and throw them into public education, especially when it comes to Grades 9 & 12 or to the nearby grades, in order to maintain an outstanding success rates in the official examinations. This delay is considered as a factor contributing to the lack of confidence in Public Education, which leads to escaping it towards Private Education.
The striking issues in the Annual Statistical Bulletin are the reversal of disparity and the convergence of proportions between Public Education and Private Education in the Secondary Cycle. Thus, the secondary students in the Public High schools occupy 5.5% and 5.3% of the total number of students in Lebanon in the two academic years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 respectively, compared with 7.1% and 6.8% in Private Education. This convergence is due to two factors: the first one is that the Public Secondary Education maintains, despite the delay occurrences, a satisfying level of education; the second one, on the other hand, is the inability of the students’ parents to pay the tuition fees in the Private High school. If this confidence in Public Secondary Education is a positive sign, it is also a negative one inferring a lack of confidence in the Public School in kindergarten and Basic Education in its three cycles.
The fact that these numbers are delayed in entering the Public School, coupled with the failure occurrences in the first elementary grades, raises concerns about the fate of Public Education, despite the convergence of the numbers of secondary school students in Public and Private Education, as well as the high results achieved by the Public High school. We can state that having the educational pyramid standing on its top foretells danger that must be combated before the Public Education matter gets worse and before it is placed on the liquidation morgue.
D- The Syrian Students Phenomenon:
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the Public School has been the victim of a deliberate policy aimed at marginalizing and exhausting it with the huge numbers of displaced Syrians, for whom some schools in the areas of displacement have taken refuge before spreading all over the Lebanese territory and sharing the study seats with the Lebanese students. To make things worse, one studying hour is deducted from the daily schedule of the Public School students, and this deduction comes at the expense of the sessions devoted to computer, activities and the second foreign language, which contributes to the stumble of Public Education in all its stages and increases the learning differences between the public and private sectors. The statistics of the Ministry of Education and the United Nations Program on Displaced Syrians indicate that the number of Syrian students studying in public schools in the second shift exceeds 250000 students spread over the Lebanese territory from north to south and from east to west, while the number of Syrians pursuing education according to the Lebanese curriculum in public schools is 63435 students for the academic year 2013-2014, the equivalent of 20.45% of the total number of students in public schools. This number dropped in the academic year 2015-2016 to 57934 students, which forms 18.4% of the total number of students in public schools.
This abundant number of Syrian students is the source of the work continuity of a large number of public schools in Lebanon; some of these schools are threatened to close if the Syrian students leave them. In addition, other schools are disturbed by the school differences between Lebanese students from one hand and Syrian students from the other hand, in many school subjects including Foreign Language, Science and Mathematics. This means that the abundance of Syrian students in public schools, seen from outside, is a positive factor for the sake of these public schools continuity of work. At the same time, however, it is a mere sign of the collapse of Public Education in many schools, most of which belong to the poor areas.
2- The Educational Policy:
Education is a servant of the educational system which in turn reflects the intellectual structure of the society and adapts to its needs. Therefore, the political authority sets educational plans that are compatible with the interests of the regime, which classifies education as one of the pillars of the superstructure of the political regime having two functions: the first is to disseminate the regime ideology, and the second is to secure the employment staffing of the various State agencies.
Public Education had witnessed an ample growth that continued even before the civil war in 1975; consequently, the public schools spread out in remote areas and students intensively rushed to learn. However, most schools, especially those away from cities, complained about the need for teachers, while the schools of the capital and the large cities were in a state of satisfaction, giving thus the Faculty members the opportunity to pursue education in the Secondary Cycle (in the private evening schools) as well as in the university. This prosperity was the fruit of the Shehabism politics which contributed to the spread of public education, following the recommendations of the Irvad mission headed by Father Lobré.
This prosperity led to the spread of Public Education in varying proportions, in the Lebanese regions, the near and the far from the capital and the centers of the provinces and districts. Indeed, it had multiple results, the most important of which include:
A- People largely resorting to the Public School; parents rushed to send their children to school that the school buildings no longer accommodate the growing number of pupils. It is important to note here the wide disparity in the age of pupils belonging to the same class. This was evident in the villages of the South, Beqaa and the North.
B- Meeting the need of the community especially the public sector, for employment staffing that required a large number of pre-university degree holders and that are fourth-category employments, including teachers, writers, editors and Head of Departments. In addition, the Lebanese University contributed through the filling of some vacancies of the third category and above; nevertheless, these vacancies were limited to the theoretical faculties, which included the faculties of Arts, Sciences, Law, Education, and the 2 Institutes of Arts and Social Sciences. Yet, the applied faculties hadn’t come to light before 1970 when the Institute of Applied Sciences was founded.
C- The Public School job was limited in scope after the educational policy of the State restricted it with the social classes restriction, which was manifested by the rank given to the foreign language in the official curricula, where it was imposed to teach Sciences and Mathematics, and sometimes to teach History and Geography, not to mention the eliminatory mark in the official examinations, as well as considering it the language of instruction in the Faculties of Law and Education. This limits the access of the popular classes’ individuals to high levels of education and deprives them of majoring in some specialties that have a role in the political life, such as Law and Political Sciences that form the backbone of the country’s leaders, including Presidents, Deputies, Ministers, Ambassadors and General Directors. Thus, Public Education had a limited functionality that only few could break.
D- The official education contributed to the spread of political awareness against the regime and the political feudalism in particular. In reality, the Public School was a source of nuisance to the political authority, where many factors prevailed. As a result, the struggle of the social classes, along with that of the syndicates and the political parties, merged with the national struggle, which led the Teacher Training Schools and the Official High schools to be the stream of the Lebanese Leftism with the militants who played a major role in the rise of the Lebanese Popular Movement. It is enough to mention that nearly eight hundred teachers from the South alone were referred in 1974 to the educational inspection and the disciplinary council, and were punished because of their political affiliations either by delaying their graduation or deporting them from their villages to remote areas in the North and Beqaa, or both, proving thus the dangerous role that the Public School has played in the public life in Lebanon.
E- The Lebanese bourgeoisie sought to turn the conflict from a class and political struggle to a sectarian one, and it succeeded by fabricating sectarian massacres here and there. The “Taif “Agreement came to enshrine this division. In order for the sectarian forces to succeed in their mission, the need arose to promote Sectarian Education at the expense of Public Education, which serves the ideology of sectarian division. This led to the spread of the educational institutions that belong to each sect and that formed a vertical educational division, from kindergarten to university. Hence, the Authority has resorted to the marginalization of Public Education in order to weaken its role, paving the way for its abolition, on the pretext of the disproportion between the cost and the return, making education a commodity that can be subject to profit and loss.
The pillars of power, in full possession of their mental faculties, have sought to abolish the institutions of teachers and professors rehabilitation, from the Teacher Training Schools to the College of Education, to distort their mission, and to turn them into seasonal training centers, replacing them with an “army” of contractors who are not qualified to teach. Since the 1980s, the successive Ministers of Education kept on contracting thousands of teachers and professors under a political bribery pretending in its outer form to be providing job opportunities for certificate holders, but being in reality a blow that knocks out public education. The Annual Statistical Bulletin of the Educational Center for Research and Development for the academic year 2015-2016 indicates that the number of Teaching Staff in public schools and high schools reached 42549 professors and teachers, 16185 of which are part-time teachers, constituting 38.03% of the total. This number is expected to increase due to the absence of open games and to the need to fill vacancies caused by the retirement of a number of Faculty members, most of which are highly experienced and competent.
The rise in the number of teachers employed on a contract basis comes in the context of the State policy aimed at liquidating the public sector in fulfillment of the wishes of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as recommended by successive conferences held in Paris and Beirut. It seems that this policy is not exclusive to Lebanon. It is rather recommended by the Global Capitalist System which seeks to liquidate the public sector in the countries suffering from economic crises by gradually reducing the end-of-service indemnities to reach half of the last salary, along with increasing the number of part-timers on the road to a career contract.
Imposing such a large number of contract teachers on public education, while depriving them of all forms of guarantees, leads to emptying Public Education from one of the cornerstones that ensure its effective functioning, turning it into a lean body awaiting death.
The policy of neglecting Public Education is not limited to the contractual employment. In addition to the unfair discrimination that grants the affluent children the opportunity to enter a private school one or two years before their colleagues in public education, we note the State’s negligence toward the implementation of the laws that are stipulated to protect children. As a matter of fact, the State neglects the compulsory education for those under the age of thirteen, leaving them at the mercy of organized gangs that would transform them into victims of begging. This may be one of the reasons for the school delays mentioned above. Besides, we should highlight the issue of teaching training materials. Twenty years have passed since the current curricula are applied, and the State hasn’t equipped public schools with the necessary technological tools except in areas that are politically and geographically fortunate, whereas hundreds of public schools and high schools are deprived from such equipment. This negligence is added to the deprivation of the Public School from technology teachers, since no special contest specially designed for them had taken place before last year; furthermore, the teaching of a second foreign language is neglected except in schools and high schools that undertakes to pay the expenses of such education, which means the State’s abandon of its duties in the implementation of curricula that it had established and legislated.
The policy of marginalization of the Public School occurs in the context of the policy of marginalization of the public sector which has been deprived since 1998 of the Salary Scales that seek the correction of wages in conformity with the inflation recorded at this stage. Hence, this policy aims at depriving the education sector of the gains made by the professors and teachers in their struggle over more than half a century.
In short, we can say that the State’s policy towards Public Education associated with the neglect of school, student and teacher together lead to the gradual abolition of the role of the Public School, after the pre-university education has lost its function in graduating candidates for public employments. Nowadays, most of the employments require a university degree for which the Lebanese University and the universities of the sects compete with each other, which impedes the path of Public Education pushing it downhill, and forces the democratic forces and their syndicate bodies to undertake major tasks to restore the role of the Lebanese Popular Movement in defending the interests of the Lebanese people.
3- The Syndicates Status
- Since the Taef Agreement, the syndicates’ movement in Lebanon has been subject to a fierce campaign aiming at its containment, assimilation, abolition of its role, and eradication. The manifestations of this campaign emerged in deliberately hatching multiple syndicates for the same profession, and for similar unions. Therefore, the General Labor Union emerged as a body without spirit, and as officers without soldiers; besides, its function is limited to following up transactions from behind offices, in such a way that the celebration of the World Labor Day is being held in a closed hall in the presence of employers, but in the absence of the holiday owners.
In this context, the Coordinating Body of Trade Unions was assuming the role of the General Labor Union and bridging the gap resulted from its neutralization and its leaders’ betrayal of the Lebanese working class interests. It should be noted here that the strengths of the Coordinating Body of Trade Unions are their weaknesses at the same time, being a body that gathers job categories having common interests represented by the unity of the demands calling for correcting wages, but varying in the rates of the correction and the job status, which greatly contributes to the emergence of differences that threaten its existence and function. The Authority’s attempt to put the hand on the components of the Coordinating Body, in a scandalous allocation of the leadership positions of its constituent bodies, resulted in three years of stagnation of the syndicates struggle.
It is worth mentioning at this point that the birth of the Independent Syndicate Movement was a natural response to the fraternal syndicate activity of both the General Labor Union and the Coordinating Body of Trade Unions. Since then, this movement has retrieved its natural place, being a catalyst for the associations to assume their intended roles, and it may find itself obliged to take separate steps and movements, determined by subsequent circumstances, in the light of the future status of the Coordinating Body of Trade Unions and the General Labor Union.
4- The Duties
The natural response to the policy of striking Public Education requires the Popular Movement and its political and syndicate forces to fight for the preservation of the Public School and to develop it to keep pace with the modern era, so as to allow equal opportunities for the Lebanese to receive one education in a national school that treats the Lebanese population as equal citizens in rights and duties. This necessitates the development of permanent plans for the syndicate struggle, with clear slogans and demands that contribute to the development of the political struggle to serve the general line of the struggle. The syndicate, which cannot lead its members to defend their interests, is not worthy of leadership. The syndicate struggle that is empty of a political goal is also worthless. This means that the function of the forefront forces is not limited to raising wages and increasing salaries, but also to defending education in general and exposing the role of the regime in order to develop the struggle to overthrow it.
To achieve this goal, the role of the independent syndicate movement must be developed within the framework of a general plan to develop the general syndicate activity, in an approach aiming at uniting and organizing the syndicate frameworks that oppose the policy of the General Labor Union, especially the National Union and the democratic frameworks that began to emerge in the free trade unions. It would be useful to emphasize the organized work to qualify new leaders who would receive the banner of the syndicate struggle in the field of education. This does not happen in closed rooms, it is not fabricated neither; on the opposite, it is provided in the battlefields. Similarly, the syndicate leaders are not appointed, but they occupy their leading position through their ability to exercise leadership, their experience and sincerity. In this regard, how many leaders headed the trade union movement, and then fell down because of their opportunism and flattery of power!!