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Schools in Lebanon Remain Closed, Stirring Fears of a Lost Generation

As Lebanon’s multi-dimensional crisis worsens, most public schools remain closed as teachers strike over pay and poor conditions.

Manal Hdaife, a school principal in the Chouf region and vice president of the Mount Lebanon Teachers Union, highlighted three reasons for the strikes: inadequate medical coverage, the lack of a salary increase, and no transportation allowance.

The situation in Lebanon is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century, according to the World Bank. The currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value, and consumer prices tripled year-on-year. At the same time, most public-sector salaries, including those of teachers, have not increased, making daily life particularly difficult.

Hardships are affecting both access to and the quality of education. “I am the principal of an elementary school and my salary does not exceed $90, which does not cover all my monthly expenses,” Hdaife told Al-Fanar Media.

Consequences for Children

Unfavorable physical conditions in schools are also hurting public education.

In an open letter published in January, Nagham Beydoun, a teacher with Save the Children in Lebanon, and Gwen Hines, chief executive of Save the Children UK, pointed out the many challenges for schools trying to reopen after the winter break. These included the lack of heating in areas where temperatures fall below freezing, and the lack of computers and other school equipment.

“There is no electricity, there is no Internet, there is no money. The economic and social situation is affecting everyone. The situation is desperate and the whole school triangle, of students, teachers, and parents, is suffering.”

Manal Hdaife
A school principal in the Chouf region and vice president of the Mount Lebanon Teachers Union

Save the Children estimated that over 1.3 million children were affected by school closures over the past year, and more than 700,000 were kept out of school.

Unicef has warned that children face an increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse as families cope with rising poverty.

Manal Hdaife summed up the challenges her school is facing: “There is no electricity, there is no Internet, there is no money.”

“The economic and social situation is affecting everyone,” Hdaife said. “The situation is desperate and the whole school triangle, of students, teachers, and parents, is suffering.”

The lack of financial and material resources, coupled with an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, is also making health safety measures more complicated.

“Because the classrooms are packed with students, it is almost impossible to have social distancing,” said Hdaife. “However, we do our best to contact parents to make sure no one has symptoms, and all teachers keep their masks in the classroom.”

Online learning was possible for most of her students last year, Hdaife said, but “it will be much more complicated this year with the lack of electricity and Internet.”

Private Schools Face Losses, Too

While the public sector has been affected the most, the private sector has lost resources, too. Hassan, a teacher at a private school in Beirut who asked to remain anonymous, said many people are leaving the country.

“There is a feeling of disgust, resignation and fear about the future of the country,” he said. “All those who could leave, with double nationality or family abroad, took this opportunity.”

While some private schools managed to find funding, others lost many students because families could no longer afford to pay tuition in dollars. This put more pressure on the public schools, Hassan said.

Save the Children estimated that over 1.3 million children were affected by school closures over the past year, and more than 700,000 were kept out of school.

“What has occurred in the schools is similar to what has happened in society,” he said. “The middle class disappeared with the crisis and the social elevator in public schools broke down.”

On the other hand, he added, “some private schools have become extremely elitist with very high entrance requirements. There is not only a gap between private and public schools, but also between private schools that have more or fewer resources.”

The succession of crises is eroding confidence in the educational system, Hassan said. “It is also a whole creative and inventive spirit that is disappearing in Lebanon. A piece of culture is cut off from Lebanon.”

Teachers’ passion for their work is dying out, Hassan said, and it is becoming harder to motivate people to become teachers in the country.

It will take time to restore an education system with schooling for the whole country, adequate support and resources, he added. He fears that a whole generation may be lost.

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Hdaife, meanwhile, isn’t giving up as she and other teacher advocates continue to negotiate with the government.

“We want to save the education system, we want to save our academic year,” she said. “There is nothing more important than education and having educated students for the future, for our community, and for building our country.”

Clément Gibon is a French journalist and photographer based in Lebanon since 2019.

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By: Clément Gibon

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