Earlier this week, Minister of Education and Higher Education Abbas Halabi decided to launch the academic year despite unresolved reservations by teachers’ associations. It is important to note that the minister’s decision came prior to meeting with the associations and to deciding how much the ministry can provide for educational institutions ahead of the academic year.
The ministry’s confrontation with teachers reached new levels as decision 585 by the ministry was leaked. It included deducting the salaries of 61 teachers who abstained from teaching after associations’ strikes were called off.
Lack of Resources and Lack of Renumeration
These current confrontations represent systemic and perennial issues within the educational sector in Lebanon. Teachers are one of the most undervalued groups in the country, facing exponentially deteriorating economic conditions and having to perform their jobs with devaluing wages and without much-needed logistical and equipment provisions.
Moreover, the measures are highly political, as decision 585 primarily targeted teachers who were vocal in their criticism of the ministry. Reports indicated that politically affiliated teachers were spared.
Political economy is thus central to such decisions, as patronage has been dominant across educational institutions and has played an important role in diverting funds from providing necessary facility amenities and quality education.
The second political economy issue is budgetary, as educational institutions in general have been chronically deprived from decent allocations in the yearly state budgets.
The latest confrontations between the teachers and the ministry should be situated in the context of an increasingly inaccessible education sector.
Recently, the Lebanese University announced an increase in tuition fees, sparking fears of the “University of the Nation” following the dollarization trend across the country.
On their part, many teachers have informed that they don’t plan on renewing their contracts, while others informed that they plan on reducing their working hours, preferring to work in other professions as their hourly rate became equivalent to LL. 100,000.
As the academic year starts, many groups have noted the intersections of teachers’ issues with those of students.
An inaccessible private education sector and an underfunded public one have caused problems for all but the ruling elite, their affiliates within these institutions and some decision-makers within university administrations.
On their part, oppositional and pro-change student groups have already started preparing for facing traditional political parties’ student branches.
The Secular Clubs across various universities have called for a Student Conference on September 9 titled “Lebanon’s Student Declaration 2023.” The conference includes a panel of university professors to discuss the challenges and prospects of the educational sector as a whole, highlighting the intersections between students and professors’ aims.
Moving ahead, recognizing the importance of an accessible and quality educational sector is central to any economic recovery plan and central to a new inclusive and sustainable social contract.