Lebanese private school students move to public sector amid economic crisis

At least 20% of private school students in Lebanon are likely to move into the struggling public education sector this school year.

Private schools and universities are becoming increasingly unaffordable with fees paid in dollars, but the expected move will take place as the public education sector itself is on the verge of collapse, raising concerns. questions about whether public schools will be able to handle the added pressure.

“We cannot accurately quantify until December 31, when we will be able to count the number of dropouts and students migrating from private schools to public schools,” said the Director General of the Ministry of Education. , Imad Al Achkar. The National. “But that’s our estimate.”

The shift from private to public education dates back to the onset of the economic crisis in Lebanon, which began in 2019.

In 2020-2021, around 55,000 Lebanese students transferred from private to public schools, according to a World Bank report – even before a policy of school fees to be paid in dollars was adopted by most private schools.

The majority of private schools in Lebanon – representing 70% of the country’s education sector – have raised tuition fees and moved to demanding dollar payments in recent months, in a bid to protect the education sector deprived of more than 95% of the local currency. dip in value.

Since last year, Lebanon’s acting Minister of Education, Dr. Abbas Al Halabi, has called dollar payments illegal and stressed the need to charge private tuition fees in the local currency.

“It is rejected by the ministry and declared illegal,” acknowledged Mr. Achkar.

Private school administrators argue that tuition should be paid in dollars to cover expenses, maintain education quality, and pay teachers.

Most of the country’s economy depends on the dollar, while the majority of residents are still paid in Lebanese pounds. This contradiction has created an impasse for the education sector.

According to the chief executive, Ministry of Education officials recognize that the law will need to be changed as the education sector descends into chaos.

Officials and educators fear that the public school system may not be able to absorb more students from private schools.

Already, public schools are struggling under the weight of Lebanon’s economic crisis. Thousands of public school teachers have been on strike sporadically since January, demanding higher wages, transport allowances and better teaching conditions.

The latest strike by public school teachers coincides with a general public sector strike that began two months ago and has crippled many operations in the country.

Mouluk Mehrez, the head of the secondary education association, said she wouldn’t even call the open strike a strike because “we are really unable to work. We don’t even have the transport money to get to school.”

“Three years ago we were making $2,000” a month, she said. “Now it’s $80. The collapse was quick and we lost the value of our money at a time when everything in Lebanon depends on the dollar.

Although the public school year is due to start in September, teachers say they will continue their strike until their demands are met.

About two-thirds of Lebanon’s population now live in poverty due to an economic collapse that began to show signs in 2019.

The majority of goods and services in the struggling nation are now priced in dollars or their local currency equivalent. Public electricity is scarce, with the vast majority of people in the country relying on private shared generators, paid for in dollars.

Meanwhile, the majority of Lebanese salaries have not increased to keep pace with inflation. A breakdown of goods and services now characterizes life in Lebanon, and the education sector is also on the verge of collapse.

Ms Mehrez said that although the teachers’ union recently met with the interim education minister and the prime minister, they were still nowhere near a solution that would end the strike.

“As for the public sector: if there are no teachers, there are no engineers, no doctors, nothing,” she said. “The collapse of the education sector means the collapse of the whole country.”

Mr. Achkar agreed: “Our country was built on education. We can’t risk losing him.

Employees of the Ministry of Education are also on strike.

“We won’t have an easy year. I can tell you that,” Mr. Achkar said.

Updated: August 26, 2022, 03:00

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