Is school over for good? Lebanese teachers flee as financial crisis deepens


  • The Lebanese education system once popular across the region
  • Teacher’s salary worth less than $ 90 per month as currency tumbles
  • Canceled end of secondary school exams

BEIRUT, July 8 (Reuters) – Sorbonne graduate Chryssoula Fayad spent nearly two decades teaching history and geography in elite French schools in Lebanon, before heading up departments. Today, she is a substitute teacher in Paris, part of an exodus from an education system on its knees.

Fayad left her house and savings behind in August 2020, at age 50. A few days earlier, the hospital where her husband worked and her clinic were damaged as well as parts of Beirut when chemicals exploded at the port – the last straw.

Corruption and political feuds have cost the local currency more than 90% of its value in less than two years, pushing half the population into poverty and blocking depositors like Fayad from their bank accounts.

Despite her difficult situation, she has no regrets.

“I always say thank goodness that we had this chance to come here,” she said. “Unfortunately, I know I made the right decision when I see how things are going in Lebanon now.”

Lebanon’s education sector, prized across the Middle East as a regional leader, was once ranked tenth globally by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.

Now it is unclear how the schools will handle when the new school year begins in October.

“When the crisis erupted in 2019, it took the education sector by surprise,” said René Karam, president of the Association of English Teachers (ATEL) in Lebanon.

At first some private schools fired better paid teachers, around 30% of the staff, to save money, but over time many others left on their own, half of the 100 teachers in their workforce. association now being in Iraq, Dubai and Oman.

Wages starting at 1.5 million Lebanese pounds per month are now worth less than $ 90 at the street price in a country where they were previously $ 1,000.

“We are in a real crisis,” he said.

STAY ALIVE

Private schools represent 70% of the education sector, with more than 1,500 establishments. Rodolphe Abboud, leader of the private school teachers’ union, said each school has lost between ten and 40 teachers so far, some staying at home because they can no longer afford to babysit.

“We are at the stage of just staying alive, the necessities,” he said. “There isn’t a school now that doesn’t advertise jobs.”

Students take an exam at Saints Coeurs Ain Najm School in Mansourieh, Lebanon, June 29, 2021. REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir

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Children from several classes have already been grouped together for certain subjects and daily power cuts and shortages of basic materials also make it difficult for schools to function.

This week, the Education Department canceled the high school leaving exams in response to pressure from parents and staff who argued economic conditions made them impossible.

“The minister wanted to organize exams but did he not know that in Lebanon there is a shortage of paper and ink and that teachers cannot work for free and that schools cannot operate without fuel for generators? electricity? Karam said.

The education ministry said it had secured additional donor pay for teachers overseeing exams, but most had withdrawn.

“The majority of teachers have gradually withdrawn from supervision and this has made it impossible to hold the college exams,” Hilda Khoury, director of the ministry, said by email, adding that the high school exams would take place.

EVERYTHING THAT’S NECESSARY

Father Boutros Azar, general secretary of Catholic schools in the Middle East and North Africa, said parents at many of his 321 schools in Lebanon were struggling to pay annual fees ranging from $ 3-8 million. books.

“But we made the decision to keep going and do whatever it takes to keep the schools open,” he said.

A government employee said that no one has yet paid tuition fees for next year at the school attended by his two sons, aged 10 and seven. The school had demanded 600 dollars for each child in addition to 12 million Lebanese pounds.

“Where does someone get fresh money to pay these days? We all get paid in local currency, so how are we supposed to get that amount?” She said, declining to give his name because of the sensitivity of his work.

Abboud, sitting in one of 130 schools damaged by the port blast, said some parents were voting with their feet, lobbying the small public sector or moving abroad.

“We are seeing families moving from private schools to public schools and others moving outside of Lebanon to Arab countries or Europe and the United States and Canada and that is creating a problem.”

More and more teachers are also preparing to leave.

“There is a big difference between now and two years ago,” said Joy Fares, 25, who has taught for five years. “So I would say no, I want to stay with my family… but now, no, it makes sense to just go.”

Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Imad Creidi; additional reporting by Issam Abdallah and Laila Bassam; edited by Philippa Fletcher

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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