ASIA/LEBANON – President Aoun announces an “emergency meeting” to address the crisis in non-state schools

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Beirut – The systemic crisis in which Lebanon seems to be sinking is having devastating effects on non-state schools, mostly of ecclesial origin, on which the entire national education system is based. In the Land of the Cedars, the combination of the crisis due to the pandemic, economic emergency and political-institutional paralysis threatens to destroy the network of schools and educational institutions which, even before Covid-19, already had problems and denounced the progressive erosion of the resources necessary to guarantee the continuity of the educational work carried out at the service of the entire country .
In recent days, President Michel Aoun announced the convening of an extraordinary conference to address the school emergency, which has now become an alarming national issue. The agenda will also include a request to guarantee the non-state school sector access to funds that Lebanon receives from donors, “friendly” countries and international institutions in these times of crisis.
The announcement was made after the Head of State received representatives of the Federation of Educational Institutes in the presidential palace, who submitted to Aoun a memorandum containing data and documents that testify the conditions and the now unsustainable difficulties in which most of the educational institutions continue to provide their services, exposed every day to the risk of closing the doors of their school buildings forever.
In the meeting with President Aoun, which took place on Friday, September 3, the delegation of the Federation of Non-State Educational Institutions was led by Father Youssef Nasr, Secretary General of the Lebanese Catholic Schools and coordinator of the Federation, a liaison body that represents all private educational institutions, including those of Shiite and Sunni Muslim inspiration. The convening of the Conference announced by Aoun, in which the departments of various ministries should participate, is made even more urgent by the need to guarantee the reopening of schools in crisis, in the weeks that, in normal times, in the country of the cedars, would be marked by the beginning of a new school year. The data submitted to Aoun’s attention during the meeting – and summarized to the Lebanese media by Father Nasr – focus in particular on the devastating economic effects on the entire education sector due to the precipitous devaluation of the Lebanese pound against the US dollar. The expected average cost of a student’s education for the 2021-2022 academic year, due to the economic crisis and the devaluation of the national currency, could reach the unsustainable figure of 9.3 million Lebanese pounds. The cost of school textbooks has increased by 5 times compared to 2019. Furthermore, the salaries of teachers and school staff are now completely insufficient to cover the basic needs of employees and their families.
Faced with such scenario, the proposal of the operators of the non-state school sector is simple and concrete: Lebanese non-state schools should also be included among the direct beneficiaries of the donations destined for the education sector that will be channeled to Lebanon by donors, friendly countries and the international institutions, contributing a sum of US $ 200 to help pay each student’s fees, using bonus allocation systems similar to those currently used for the “emergency” distribution of fuel cards. “We have to reopen the doors of the schools, and get the students back. This would be the third year that our students are out of classrooms. And this cannot continue”, added Father Nasr in the statements relaunched by the Lebanese media after the meeting with President Aoun.
Regarding the rumors about the increase in school fees ordered by some educational institutions, Father Nasr acknowledged that this option does not represent a solution to the emergency situation, “in light of the current economic difficulties suffered by families”. The intervention of political institutions is therefore necessary to ensure that the non-state education sector can take advantage of “external donations and subsidies”. In this regard, Father Nasr also reported that the specific donations made so far, mainly from France, to the benefit of individual schools, have covered a maximum of 2% of the budget of the beneficiary educational institutions. According to data also confirmed by NGOs and international institutions, since the popular protests in autumn 2019 against corruption, more than 1.2 million children have stopped going to school. In recent months, in support of Lebanese Christian schools, the initiative supported by L’Oeuvre d’Orient, a French Catholic association committed to helping Middle Eastern Christians, was also launched, aimed at encouraging the return to school of 120,000 Lebanese children. 235 Christian schools and six Catholic universities in Lebanon are participating in the project.