The failure of governance and the inability to deal with over-lapping crises has paralysed Lebanon. A whole generation of young people risks losing life opportunities due to the meltdown of the education system.
The people of Lebanon are living a nightmare. They have suffered multiple crises, including a massive explosion in Beirut’s port, an economic collapse, and a weak response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lebanese Pound has lost 90% of its value and the country’s annual rate of inflation is high and out of control.
In the face of this catastrophe, the political parties and institutions have failed the people and lost credibility. There is a political deadlock and growing instability.
About 700,000 children, a third of the school-age population, were without education last year. The 1.3 million enrolled children received little education, an estimated maximum of 11 weeks, during prolonged school closures. The shut-downs were due to a combination of anti-government protests, Covid-19 lockdown measures, and the Beirut port explosion, which damaged 163 schools.
A crisis for teachers and schools
Over 80% of the population has been pushed into deep poverty and economic hardship. Those who have the means to escape the country are leaving. The social and economic crisis in Lebanon is turning into an education disaster where vulnerable children risk never returning to school.
Unrest and instability affecting schools included the 2019 civil protests and several teacher strikes prompted by non-payment and late payment of wages. Teachers and their unions reported that the decline in quality education is a serious threat to Lebanon’s future.
Most of Lebanon’s public schools remain closed as teachers demand higher wages and stipends. They seek to earn a living wage.
Teachers are trying to cope with their stark reality. Many teachers used carpooling because they couldn’t afford gas. Some paid for school supplies to ensure that students can have minimum materials for learning. However, they can no longer afford to do so.
There is a shortage of teachers because the government is not financing and hiring teachers. Large numbers of students had been in private schools before the crisis. However, many Lebanese families that can no longer pay for private education are enrolling their children in public schools. That overloads schools in the struggling public system.
The digital divide accentuates other inequalities. During lockdowns, Education International member organisations in Lebanon reported that distance learning was inaccessible for children who lacked devices, internet connections, or reliable electricity. They have stressed the tragic impact of the crises. In addition to the shut down in education, child labour has expanded, and girls have been forced to marry. The worst hit are the poorest children and the country’s large number of refugees.
The Lebanese government is abandoning schools, teachers, and students during the acute crises, exacerbating inequalities between those few who can still afford private schools and the many who cannot.
The international community must respond
The leaders of Lebanon need to address this catastrophe. At the same time, there is an urgent need for the international community to help save education in Lebanon, to ensure that the country has a future. That requires an “all-hands-on-deck” response from the government, donors, and the UN to avert a disaster for children and the country.
The education system must be strengthened, including by building a supportive institutional framework for good-faith negotiations and social dialogue.
The population is fed up with rampant corruption, restrictions on human rights, including trade union rights, and unequal access to social protection. That is true for all sectors.
Education International calls on the government and the international donor community should seek to minimise the economic burden on children, teachers, and schools.
To avoid government inaction, delays, and corruption, Education International members recommend that international donors seek to channel aid directly to schools, teachers, and parents to ensure that every child in the country is able to attend school.
Tragic and exceptional conditions in Lebanon are denying children their right to education. The desperate straits of the education system are doing incalculable harm to this generation and to the larger community. Such extraordinary circumstances require urgent global solidarity if Lebanese and refugee young people are to have any hope for the future.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.