Education, economy and other woes in Lebanon

Education Minister Elias Bou Saab decided to give passing grades to all students who took the official exams

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The latest development in a battle gripping Lebanon’s education sector took place on Saturday as Education Minister Elias Bou Saab decided to give passing grades to all students who took the official exams.

“[I decided] to give those who took the exams a certificate that would allow their entry into colleges,” Bou Saab said about his actions, the first time such a measure has been resorted to since the Lebanese Civil War ended in 1990.

The education sector in Lebanon has been embroiled by protests from the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), led by Hanna Gharib, who demand certain benefits be granted to public and private school teachers as well as other public sector works.

They claim these benefits and pay raises have been owed to them for years, though the government argues they cannot grant these public sector workers the pay increase and other benefits without damaging the Lebanese economy.

Gharib and co. have said they are due a 121% pay increase after years of working on meager salaries.

Bou Saab’s main role as Education Minister has been to try and find a way to deal with the teachers’ demands without harming the students’ school years.

The school year in Lebanon has been ravished by various protests that have left students out of school and threatened to prevent them from sitting their exams.

Now Bou Saab has decided to pass all students, which could possibly upset those students who sacrificed hours, days, and weeks to study.

”To the students, I say you have now passed your exams. Congratulations, but I had hoped the exams would be corrected ... [but] your teachers and the unions could not help you in correcting your exams.”

The teachers’, under the guise of the UCC, decided they would not grade the exams until their demands are met.

The UCC is still waiting for parliament to approve a wage scale bill for the workers they represent.

Parliament says the bill will cost the Lebanese treasury around $1.2 billion a year.

“I tried last Tuesday to have the teachers come out as victorious and postpone a decision to issue passing certificates approved by the minister and Cabinet ... but I was misunderstood because they became more stubborn,” Bou Saab said, before directing an attack at the teachers.

“The teachers wanted to save face rather than safeguard the official school certificates.”

UCC head Gharib fired back and said the blame should be laid at the feet of the Education minister and not the teachers.

Parliament is unlikely to meet soon as Christian MPs, as well as a few others, are boycotting parliament sessions until an agreement on a president is reached.

“The solution to resolving the problems of teachers and EDL workers is for the political parties to come to an agreement to facilitate the country’s affairs,” Prime Minister Tamam Salam said about the debate between the two parties.

“When this agreement happens, we can elect a new president and hold the parliamentary elections.”

“But the lack of such consensus paralyzes the legislative authority and hinders the work of the executive authority,” he added.

“Among the key [socio-economic] matters we are facing is the ranks and salaries scale; passing it would be a breakthrough for the country.”

However, economists warn that the problem is not just about political vacuum.

“The bottom line is that the way the subcommittee has approached the salaries scale and the UCB’s [UCC} threats will not only waste the opportunity for reform and reduce government waste, but also contribute to ruining what is left of the economy, and the UCB will be the first victim of that,” Dr. Sami Nader, an economist, wrote in Al-Monitor back in May.

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