Public schools in Lebanon face dire need for reform

Editor's note: The following story was submitted to Global Young Voices by Lebanese journalist Nada A.

Any parent wants to provide their child with a solid education. This drives most parents with the financial means to do so toward private education because public schools in Lebanon are often degraded, socially and academically.

Lebanon is considered the educational axis of the Middle East because it provides the largest number of schools and universities when compared to the population. It ranked 10th in overall quality of education and fourth in science and math, according to a 2013 World Economic Forum report.

Young Lebanese students in class. Credit: The Daily Star Lebanon/Mohammad Azakir

Young Lebanese students in class. Credit: The Daily Star Lebanon/Mohammad Azakir

Lebanon has committed itself to the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to provide quality education.

However, public schooling in Lebanon is not meeting the standards it has committed to, and the government has done nothing to improve it.

Public schools in Lebanon are mainly populated by children belonging to the lower class; they operate with the bare minimum: beat-up playgrounds, students’ desks, toilets, teachers’ lounges, lab equipments, libraries, computers, and no extra curriculum activities.

Playgrounds are concrete spaces; no grass, no equipments for recreation, no rest area for sick children, and no potable water.

Also, teachers and school administrators are either under qualified or underpaid and are teaching using books published in 1968 for secondary classes and in 1970 for primary and intermediate classes. Not to mention, overpopulated classes are leading to decreased supervision and more bullying issues, plus reduction in a student's’ chances of getting the academic support needed.

Private schools, per contra, have the reputation of offering better education, providing pupils with a variety of extracurricular activities, arts, sports, music and programs for children with special needs. Statistics show that 47 percent of schools in Lebanon are public.

However, 66 percent of pupils attend private schools, according to Lebanon’s Center for Educational Research and Development. Some 285,399 pupils out of 942,391 attend public schools, according to the same source.

The Ministry of Education has a five-year plan, which launched in the summer of 2011, to rehabilitate all public schools across the nation.

The region of Akkar in northern Lebanon has the highest illiteracy rate in the country, not to mention the most desperate conditions of its public schools resulting in the poorest level of education, hence the lowest academic scores.

Many factors contribute to public education failure. Among them are sectarian divisions, social inequalities, economic tensions, poor governance and civil war.

The Lebanese law entitles the head of the religious community to “give prior permission to all books, visual and audio publications that address religious ideology of the sect and to prosecute offenders before the relevant authorities.”

Disputes among religious groups on several subjects prevented the emanation of a new united curriculum, especially of national history books.

The government has imposed religious education in public schools, requiring two different books for two different religions in every grade. Many poor families cannot afford to send their children to private kindergartens, and since no state-funded alternative to these institutions has been available before, poorer children tend to be disadvantaged, having often begun primary school without possessing many of the basic skills other children have, like knowing the alphabet.

Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab speaks during an interview with Lebanon's The Daily Star. Credit: The Daily Star Lebanon/Khalil Hassan

Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab speaks during an interview with Lebanon's The Daily Star. Credit: The Daily Star Lebanon/Khalil Hassan

Under Lebanese law, children with special needs are to be fully accepted into state schools. In practice, very few public schools are equipped to accommodate these children, lacking the necessary facilities, equipment, teaching aids and qualified special educators.

Lebanon’s public education system is in need of a major reform and, above all, an innovative and bold system, beginning by hiring dedicated and well-trained teachers with advanced degrees and skills.

Teamwork involving the ministry of education, the municipalities, public and political figures, social workers and parent committees, along with time and dedication, should bring the educational structure in public schools to a proper level.

Cover credit: Caglecartoons.com