BEIRUT: Education Minister Elias Bou Saab Tuesday postponed issuing passing certificates till the end of the week as the Union Coordination Committee decided to contact political parties in what could be considered a last-ditch attempt to break the salary raise deadlock.
Teachers are refusing to mark official exams to put pressure on the government to implement a long-awaited salary raise. Bou Saab had previously vowed that if teachers continued to boycott the grading, his department would issue passing certificates to all students who had taken exams.
Bou Saab’s agreement with the UCC came hours after members of the union, protesting outside the Education Ministry, accused the minister of sowing divisions among the teachers body.
Around 40 teachers reported for duty Tuesday to establish the grading criteria, in violation of the UCC’s boycott.
Speaking after a lengthy meeting with a UCC delegation, Bou Saab said that he had postponed issuing passing certificates for Grade 9 and Grade 12 students and had asked teachers to stop putting together grading criteria, as a result of the UCC’s demands.
“They [the UCC] requested that the process of putting together grading criteria stops and I agreed. They also asked for postponing issuing certificates and I also agreed, although the government has approved this decision,” Bou Saab told teachers protesting outside the Education Ministry in the Verdun neighborhood of Beirut.
“The Union Coordination Committee will be in contact with political leaders from now until the Assumption Day holiday is over, in a bid to have the demands of teachers secured,” Bou Saab continued.
“May the politicians be inspired on Assumption Day and agree on holding a Parliament session to give rights [to teachers],” Bou Saab said. Assumption Day falls on Friday.
Nehme Mahfoud, the head of the Association of Private School Teachers – which is part of the UCC – said that Bou Saab was unable to issue certificates or to secure the correction of official exams.
“The minister has no courage to issue passing certificates because this jeopardizes education, and exams cannot be corrected without the UCC’s consent. I believe there is a third solution which is: passing the salary raise,” Mahfoud said.
“They are trying to arrange for us a meeting with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the presence of MP Bahia Hariri and the education minister. We will also meet Speaker Nabih Berri so that a Parliament session is held to pass the salary raise.”
Saad Hariri highlighted the need to look for solutions to the salary raise deadlock, describing it as “a dangerous [situation],” that could “explode in our faces.”
“We have to be realistic. We cannot ignore the issue of the wage hike and thus we should look for solutions,” Hariri told a visiting delegation of leading businessmen. “[Former] Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora is still holding contacts on this issue. I also tackled the wage hike with Speaker Nabih Berri, who considered it a fireball thrown at Parliament.
“The issue is dangerous and it may explode in our faces at any moment if they want to make a problem out of it. But on the other hand it won’t disappear. We should look for ways to contain this problem and protect the Lebanese economy at the same time.”
Mahfoud said that Hariri’s stance could help reach a solution.
Berri was quoted by a local TV station as saying that addressing the issue of official exams and meeting the demands of the UCC could only take place through Parliament.
Political parties are split over how to finance the wage hike, which is expected to cost around $2 billion.
Earlier in the day, a small fistfight broke out outside the Education Ministry, where dozens of UCC teachers were holding a protest.
In defiance of the UCC’s boycott, some teachers entered the Education Ministry to heed Bou Saab’s call for putting together grading criteria as a prelude to start marking the official exams.
Others who tried to follow suit were urged by their colleagues to abide by the boycott.
Bou Saab showed up among the crowd and urged teachers to respect the rule of law.
“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 said.
“Those [teachers] who wish to come in to take part in correcting [exams] will enter the ministry,” he said. “And I hope they will be treated in a civilized manner.”
The minister announced that the committees for mathematics, history, English and civics had begun setting out grading criteria.
But UCC head Hanna Gharib 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 the protesters.
Members of the Internal Security Forces tried to push protesters away from the Education Ministry’s gates.
“Let the world see how a teacher is treated in this country,” Mahfoud said, as he burst into tears.
Speaking after the agreement with Bou Saab was reached, Gharib called on teachers to rally Wednesday starting 11 a.m. at the Riad al-Solh Square in Downtown Beirut to pressure Parliament to pass the salary raise.
He praised teachers, saying they were united in boycotting the marking of exams.
“If only 40 teachers out of 80,000 showed up [to establish the grading criteria], this proves that the Union Coordination Committee has an independent democratic union decision,” Gharib said.