BEIRUT: Education Minister Elias Bou Saab said Wednesday that the ministry would issue passing certificates within 48 hours to all grade 9 and grade 12 students who took official exams should the teachers’ strike continue.
If implemented, the move would mark the second time such certificates were issued since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War.
Hitting back at the minister, the Union Coordination Committee, a coalition of teachers and state workers, accused Bou Saab of going back on his promise not to issue the certificates. The UCC also said it would stick to its boycott of grading official exams.
“We will give passing certificates to everybody. Anybody who applied to take official exams has his request registered with the ministry. We will issue the certificates based on these requests,” Bou Saab told a news conference at the Education Ministry.
But the minister said he would not implement the decision until 48 hours had passed, based on a request made by a delegation of party officials in charge of education, whom he met with earlier in the day.
“I decided that I will no longer postpone solving the crisis of the grade 9 and grade 12 students ... the only correct decision that I can make has many negative consequences, but it was adopted during the Lebanese Civil War,” Bou Saab said.
Teachers from the UCC have been boycotting the grading of official exams to pressure Parliament to endorse the salary raise bill.
Grade 12 students must pass their official exams in order to enroll in university and grade 9 students to join high school.
Many students have been forced to put plans to continue their education on hold as teachers and officials wrangle over the salary dispute.
Parliament has failed to pass the wage hike several times due to lingering differences between political parties on how to finance it.
Bou Saab said his decision came after the UCC insisted on continuing to boycott the grading of exams.
“I say again that I have to keep in mind the interest of students, just like that of teachers,” he said.
“Some people make mistakes and I acknowledge in front of you now that I made a mistake, but I would repeat the same mistake under similar circumstances,” he said. “I made a mistake when I said I would not give passing certificates. I said it to keep a strong card with UCC for negotiations and I am responsible for this mistake.”
Bou Saab said that he couldn’t uphold his promise when there was no end to the wage row in sight, and when time was running out with some universities due to start a new semester on Aug. 15.
“Some say this [salary raise] needs a month, some two months, some say it will be passed after parliamentary elections [scheduled for November],” he said. “I tried for the impossible, to gain the rights of teachers, but as you know, this decision is out of my hands.”
Bou Saab added that he would inform the Cabinet of his decision Thursday but said it did not require other ministers’ approval.
“I have contacted all the relevant politicians in the country and updated them on the arrangements I will be making,” he said.
“The political cover for the decision is already in place.”
The UCC said its decision to boycott the grading of official exams came in agreement with the minister. UCC head Hana Gharib said that its decision came at the request of Bou Saab in June shortly before the UCC went back on its threat to boycott holding the official exams.
“He told us: Hold the exams and then boycott grading them. This happened during a meeting at the Education Ministry in the presence of MP Ali Bazzi and Hasan Zeineddine, the head of Amal Movement’s Department of Education,” Gharib told a news conference.
Gharib said that during the same meeting, Bou Saab promised that he would not pressure teachers to correct exams later, nor would he issue passing certificates.
“You used to say: Let them look for a minister other than me to issue passing certificates ... how did these stances suddenly change? Is the Union Coordination Committee responsible for this?” he asked. “We upheld our part of the agreement. But what did officials do? Nothing.”
Gharib said that over the past three years, the UCC had gone back on its threat to boycott holding or grading official exams after politicians promised that the raise would be passed, adding that they did not keep their promise.
“What they want us to do now, we already did in the past and got nothing in return,” Gharib said.
Gharib stressed that the UCC was eager to preserve the interests of students as well as the rights of public sector employees and teachers. He reiterated the body’s refusal to correct official exams.
Gharib also urged the government to prevent the release of the passing certificates.
“The certificates are very dangerous. We call on the Cabinet to prevent this measure, which threatens education in Lebanon and negatively affects the reputation of official exams.”