BEIRUT: As the summer comes to an end and the start of a new academic year approaches, parents are expressing mounting concerns over the deteriorating security and economic situation.
Such worries consume parents Iman Shatila and her sister Huda, who both find themselves overwhelmed with the instability in the country, as well as spiraling expenses.
Iman is a mother of two: a ninth-grader boy and a daughter attending a special school for speech problems.
She expressed frustration with an unexpected hike in tuition fees – the school administration added LL550,000 to this year’s tuition, bringing the total to LL4.3 million.
She has spent almost LL100,000 on her son’s school supplies thus far, adding that her husband’s salary of LL1 million a month wasn’t enough to cover the many expenses.
Choking back tears, she said she was in need of help.
Her sister Huda, a mother of two with only one child enrolled in school, said she was worried by the failing economy, but angry about what she said was exploitation by school officials.
“They’re supposed to charge LL900,000 [in tuition] as the Education Ministry supports them financially, [but] the school administration makes us pay LL1.5 million a year,” Huda said.
She was told that tuition hikes were due to the school’s inability to afford teacher’s salaries, although a long-awaited hike in teachers’ salaries has been at the center of months of wrangling between Parliament and the currently nonexistent Cabinet.
But while tuition fees have increased dramatically, many parents have come to accept the reality that teachers have rights too, according to Maha Chidiac Fares, a mother of two.
She conceded that the rise in tuition fees was not fair to parents, some of whom were unable to afford them.
“I mean, teachers are hard workers,” she said. “But what can parents with three children at school do?”
School supplies are also a burden for parents. Zeina Tabsh Abbas, who has three children registered in a private school, said stationery prices have increased compared to last year.
“I haven’t bought the books yet, but the price of school supplies has definitely increased,” Abbas said. “You find different brands of school bags and pens, but they’re all expensive.”
Bookstores are trying to avoid losing clients over the surge in stationery prices on top of tuition fees.
“We feel for the parents,” a manager at Librairie Antoine in Hamra said. “I’m a parent myself, and I know that every LL1,000 counts.”
For that exact reason, Librairie Antoine has chosen to offer a 15 percent discount on all stationery and related items so as to maintain an affordable price range.
The manager also said that the branches had managed to keep their prices almost 10 percent lower than other bookshops.
The same measure is followed by Malik’s Bookshop. Stationery manager Wael Shamandi said prices on pens, pencils, rulers and the like had increased by 10 percent, but the store has decided not to impose the price surge on their clients.
“We’re carrying the burden of the 10 percent increase,” he told The Daily Star. “We have kept the same prices as last year and the year before on all sold stationery.”
In general, people with children in school echo the complaint that they have too much on their plate.
On top of the cost of daily basics exceeding their salaries, parents are also faced with the anxiety of whether to send their children to school at all, as the country is in constant threat of more attacks linked to the ongoing war in Syria.
Some parents such as Fares refuse to send their kids to schools in buses out of fear that they might pass through unsafe areas.
In the northern city of Tripoli, school doors were open earlier this week to begin registration for prospective students, despite several institutions still picking up the pieces after two deadly car bombs that hit the city last month.
Of those, the Ghuraba Public School for Girls suffered the most severe damage. Several civil society organizations and activists who have been working on restoring the school have made it a point to complete the work by next week.
A mother on the parents’ committee said the school had so far not received any aid from the Higher Relief Committee or any other institution.
“We’re all in the same trench,” she said, fearing a potential U.S. military strike in Syria. “Residents of this city have proven to be lovers of life and of resilience ... and we are all working together to bring the school and Tripoli back to life, God willing.”
In Sidon, private and public schools across the southern city have sent messages of reassurance to parents that the academic year would resume as normal, after an initiative to boost security was announced by local MP Bahia Hariri in coordination with the Internal Security Forces and the Army.
The city’s authorities have tightened security measures following a series of car bombings nationwide and the discovery of an unexploded car bomb near the city. In June, Salafist preacher Ahmad Assir and his followers were involved in fierce clashes with the Army in the Sidon suburb of Abra, which left dozens of soldiers and Salafist fighters dead.
School principals have expressed their desire to have a smooth school year despite growing security concerns and a large influx of Syrian and Palestinian refugees to the city, whose numbers are expected to rise to 1,000 Syrians and over 500 Palestinians this year.
Jean Daoud, principal of the National Evangelical Institute for Boys and Girls in Sidon, said although the security situation was troubling, “the more dangerous situation is the inhibition of some parents from enrolling their children in schools in Sidon because of security fears.
“We hope this will not go on for long,” he added. – With additional reporting by Antoine Amrieh and Mohammed Zaatari