BEIRUT: The showdown between teachers and lawmakers reaches a climax Tuesday, as union leaders call for a general strike and demonstration at the Education Ministry to coincide with the time that correction committees have been called on to report for duty.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saab has vowed that if too few teachers show up to grade tens of thousands of test, he will start issuing passing certificates, starting Wednesday, to all students who sat for the exams.
The Union Coordination Committee, backed by several teachers’ associations, announced that its members would stand firm in their decision to boycott grading until Parliament passed the new salary scale that would increase public sector salaries. The UCC also called for an open strike at all public facilities Tuesday and Wednesday.
The members of the correction committees announced after a meeting on Monday their support for the UCC and its “unified, independent union decision” to continue the boycott.
“The UCC’s decision to boycott grading was not made rashly; rather it came only after all other democratic means were exhausted over the past three years,” the committees said in a statement. “Those who bear responsibility for this boycott are those who have not approved these rights despite consecutive promises which have not been fulfilled.”
However, several major political parties, including the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement have called on teachers to abandon their boycott, even as some of them reiterated their support for educators’ demands. It remains unclear how many teachers would break ranks and report to the ministry Tuesday to set the standards for grading before correction begins.
Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Association of Private School Teachers, expressed confidence in the unity of the teachers’ movement.
“We called for a strike to say that we are the decision-makers when it comes to correcting [exams] and education, and anyone who wants to correct bears the responsibility of his or her decision,” Mahfoud said.
UCC head Hanna Gharib slammed the idea of issuing passing certificates as an alternative to grades, insisting that passing the salary scale was the only solution to the impasse.
“All councils of representatives are upholding the decision to boycott the correction of exams until [our] rights are acknowledged,” UCC head Gharib told a news conference.
The Cabinet approved the issuing of passing certificates last week to allow students and schools to finalize enrollment for the quickly approaching school year.
Bou Saab, who earlier in the summer reached a compromise with the union to hold the tests but not correct them until the salary scale was passed, appeared to have finally hit a wall in his negotiations.
“The UCC is committing suicide with this move,” he warned.
Following a meeting with union leaders later, Bou Saab called the “future of students” a “national responsibility.”