During a mission to Lebanon, Education International expressed solidarity with educators and students who face extreme conditions which deny children their right to education and impact teachers and their unions.
Despite not being in the headlines the situation in Lebanon is dire and has affected every layer of society with a particularly heavy impact on schools, students and teachers. The aftermath of the massive explosion in Beirut’s port in August 2020, (which destroyed 163 schools) the collapse of the financial system, political deadlock and rising instability, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have had a devastating effect on the country.
“Just one of these crises would be enough to put strain on an already struggling education system, yet teachers are always trying their best to maintain safe and quality learning environment for 1.3 million children and adolescents in the country,” stated EI General Secretary, David Edwards who led the mission to Lebanon from 29 March until 1st April.
Edwards further emphasised the importance of solidarity for the teachers and unionists in Lebanon and conveyed the support of global education community to EI member organizations: the League of Public Technical and Vocational Teachers (CETO), the Ligue des Professeurs de l'Enseignement Secondaire Public du Liban (LPESPL), the Public Primary Schools Teachers League in Lebanon (PPSTLL) and the Teachers Syndicate of Lebanon (TSL).
During the mission Education International also cooperated with UN agencies working in Lebanon, government officials, and education trade unions to:
- Prioritise the provision of education without discrimination; and
- Improve the working conditions of education personnel in Lebanon.
EI member organisations reported that teachers are suffering from the sharp depreciation of the local currency, with their salaries losing over 90 per cent of their value in two years, while inflation has soared. For example, the price of fuel nearly doubled within three weeks.
They also shared that schools lack the funds needed to operate and are struggling to afford basic items such as stationary, computer equipment, and hygiene materials to implement COVID-19 safety protocols, and have only a few hours of electricity a day, if any at all.
They also explained that though in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, UN agencies are providing financial support to public schools, institutions delivering technical and vocational education and training are not receiving this financial support, making a difficult situation worse.
In addition, banks have imposed strict capital controls as they lack hard currency to repay depositors and require cash disbursement in instalments. This is making it extremely difficult for teachers and schools to withdraw money they desperately need, local unions said.
These factors have led to a prolonged teacher’s strike in which educators are denouncing extremely difficult working conditions, inadequate healthcare coverage, lack of pay and a lack of support to adapt to the changing needs of their students. They have now agreed to put their strike on hold and resume teaching after Education Minister Abbas Halabi suggested a series of incentives, including a small salary increase and a transport allowance.
“The teachers’ situation is horrendous”
“The teachers’ situation at this stage is horrendous,” expressed Mirvat Chmaitelly, PPSTLL board member and ECE teacher in a public school with refugee children.
“To date, teachers are yet to receive last year’s salaries and transportation allowances, which has led some to quit while others are forced to seek supplementary sources of income. We are demanding better salaries and working conditions due to the current high cost of living in Lebanon. We are also asking for our monthly payments and for the development of a plan to increase the transportation allowance, as we need to work under better conditions,” she added.
For the education unions, the dire circumstances teachers are confronted with are emblematic of a wider global challenge: an utter disregard for the unique, invaluable, and demanding role that teachers play in ensuring children and adolescents learn and develop in crisis contexts.
They deplored that, too often, teachers are taken for granted, promoted as innovative and resilient, and it is assumed that they will be able to adapt to whatever challenges come their way. However, the pandemic highlighted that in many instances teacher training very rarely includes skills on how to pivot learning during a crisis – even in countries which are at increased risk of crisis and conflict.
“When teachers are not properly supported, there are huge impacts that extend beyond the classroom”
“When teachers are not properly supported, as in the case of Lebanon, there are huge impacts that extend beyond the classroom,” Edwards explained. “Children are incredibly perceptive to the well-being of their teachers, and as research shows, a teacher’s working conditions will always be linked to learning conditions for students.”
In Lebanon, teachers have been standing up for their students. “They have watched children and families suffer over the last two years while education has been an afterthought for policymakers. They have been lobbying for better conditions both for themselves and their students, and they have gone above and beyond by subsidising the cost of fuel for schools, securing medical supplies, and providing stationery and books – all with one sole clear purpose: protecting the right of every child to education,” he added.
Edwards called on the Lebanese government and the international donor community to do all they can to ensure schools stay open in Lebanon. “In doing this, we must reduce the burden on teachers by fully supporting them so they can deliver the education all children deserve.”
“Even in times of crisis, governments should prioritise access to education for all children, including refugee children. Lebanon’s plans for next year’s school year are limited and practically nonexistent. The crisis is a call to action for Lebanon’s new government and its international partners to support the education system if Lebanese and refugee children are to have hope for the future,” Edwards concluded.
To read the blog by Education International’s General Secretary David Edwards, Teachers and students in Lebanon need global solidarity to save their education system and their hope for the future. The world must answer, please click here.