BEIRUT: Education Minister Elias Bou Saab Tuesday postponed issuing passing certificates for Grade 9 and Grade 12 students by one week.
“I have decided, upon the request of the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), to postpone issuing certificates until after the end of the week. Perhaps the UCC will be convinced [to change its mind],” Bou Saab told protesters outside the Education Ministry in the Beirut neighborhood of UNESCO.
He also said that the UCC boycott of marking state-run exams for Brevet and Baccalaureate students would continue until a meeting is held after the Assumption of Mary holiday Aug. 15.
Bou Saab said the row earlier Tuesday that pitted teachers in favor of laying the groundwork for marking the official exams and those who were against it had ended for the sake of unity.
“We are in agreement that the salary scale is a priority,” he said, following a lengthy meeting with the UCC at the ministry.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri met an Economic Committees delegation to discuss a possible solution to the pay raise crisis.
UCC head Hanna Gharib called on teachers to rally Wednesday at Riad Solh Square in Downtown Beirut.
A dispute broke out earlier Tuesday between striking public school teachers insisting on a pay hike and Bou Saab, who urged protesters to respect fellow professors who hold different points of view.
Bou Saab urged teachers to respect the rule of law which is founded on democracy.
"There are those who want to correct [exams] and those who don’t want to. I expected the teachers to be democratic and not to use force to prevent [fellow teachers from correcting exams],” Bou Saab told the crowd outside the Education Ministry.
“Those [teachers] who wish to come in to take part in corrections will enter the ministry,” he said. “And I hope they will be treated in a civilized manner.”
Hanna Gharib, head of the Union Coordination Committee, which organized the rally, had accused Bou Saab of causing a division among teachers.
“The Education Minister is trying to cause a split between the teachers. It’s not true that the number of teachers [inside the ministry] is enough to lay the foundations for marking the exams,” Gharib told protesters.
He called for respect for the UCC decision to boycott correcting the exams, and blamed lawmakers for the three-year delay in approval of the salary scale.
Nearly three hours into the protest, Bou Saab announced that the committees for Mathematics, History, English and Civics "had begun laying the groundwork for grading the exams.” But the education minister said that shortly afterward he ordered the committees to stop work in response to the UCC plea.
Bou Saab had vowed Monday that if too few teachers show up to grade tens of thousands of tests, he would start issuing passing certificates, starting Wednesday, to all students who took the exams.
However, he justified his stance Tuesday, saying the postponement was in the best interest of the students.
The UCC, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, announced Monday that it would stand firm in its 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 their support for the UCC and its “unified, independent union decision” to continue the boycott after a meeting Monday.