BEIRUT: Lebanon’s public education system faces a collapse a week before the start of the school year, with teachers unable to afford transport and students dropping out because their parents cannot afford school supplies essential.
After three years of an economic crisis that shows no signs of ending, schools are also struggling to meet basic needs, such as heat and electricity.
An adviser to Abbas Halabi, minister of education and higher education in the interim government, told Arab News that meetings were being held with donor countries, international organizations, the World Bank and ambassadors with the aim of to cover teachers’ transport costs to school.
Assistance to help students attend school has not yet been discussed, the official said.
Lebanon’s spiraling economy has forced thousands of parents to transfer their children from private schools and universities to public institutions.
Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF representative in Lebanon, warned of an increase in the number of students dropping out of school.
Estimates suggest that up to 16% of Lebanese children and 49% of Syrian refugee students have not been enrolled in primary school, despite efforts by the Ministry of Education to encourage a return to school.
Parents blame the country’s financial woes as the root of the problem, saying they cannot afford transport costs, books or stationery for their children.
Halabi warned from New York at an education summit held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly 10 days ago that “if Lebanese students don’t get an education, no one else will.” “.
He had previously pleaded with donors to “obtain aid that will allow the ministry to launch the school year, which seems impossible given the refusal of educational authorities to present themselves in public schools and at the Lebanese University”. .
Lebanon is requesting aid of approximately $100 million for pre-university education, $37 million for the Lebanese University and $20 million for vocational education.
Besides implementing a host of economic and political reforms, the international community has asked Lebanon to integrate Syrian and Lebanese students in the morning and afternoon to reduce expenses.
Private schools and universities demanded payment of tuition fees partly in Lebanese pounds and partly in dollars.
However, the Ministry of Education objected to the move, saying it violated laws that stipulate the use of Lebanese currency.
Educational institutions ignored the objection, saying the only alternative would be to close, and created a “parent contribution fund” separate from the budget.
Parents who were unable to pay school fees had the option of transferring their children from private schools or universities to public institutions.
Huda Suleiman, president of the Human and Future Association for Children with Special Needs, said she would not be able to open the Taanayel school in the Bekaa Valley this year because the Ministry of Social Affairs, which “provides us with aid, has not paid what it owes us.
A limit on monthly bank withdrawals means she can only pay two teacher salaries.
“We have physical, motor and professional specialists with high salaries, in addition to fuel costs,” she said.
Suleiman said parents were unable to contribute or even drop their children off at school as some traveled long distances.
Transport costs exceed the salaries of most parents, many of whom are farmers or members of the army and internal security forces, she added.
The Ministry of Education has yet to resolve a dispute with educational bodies demanding a pay rise and other financial incentives.
According to a study by the Center for Educational Research and Development, the number of students in Lebanon exceeded one million two years ago.
They include 334,536 students or 31% in public schools, 565,593 students or 52% in private schools and 140,312 students or 13% in free private schools.
There are 36,375 students, or more than 3%, in UNRWA schools for Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon is home to 40 universities and institutes, and more than 40% of tertiary students attend the Lebanese University, a public institution.