BEIRUT: Students and parents alike voiced frustration Sunday with Education Minister Elias Bou Saab’s decision to issue passing certificates for all 148,000 students who sat for official exams this year.
“Honestly, the minister’s [decision] is a mistake,” said Jad, a student who sat for the grade 12 exam and preferred to be identified by his first name only.
Having spent 9 to 12 hours a day studying during the one-month reading period before the exams, Jad was upset that his hard work was not recognized.
“It’s like this school year went to waste,” Jad told The Daily Star. “This decision isn’t fair because there are many who didn’t study.”
Not everyone was disappointed.
“My first reaction was ‘I passed!’” said Shaker Wehbe, laughing. Shaker also sat for the Grade 12 tests.
“There are many people who studied and worked hard, but for me personally it didn’t matter much,” he added.
Bou Saab’s decision came as the Union Coordination Committee, which represents civil servants and teachers, boycotted correcting the exams until Parliament approves a long-awaited salary raise for the public sector.
For over two years now, the teachers and public servants have been taking to the streets and holding strikes, calling on officials to find means to finance the hike, but all in vain.
The UCC had previously threatened to boycott holding official exams for grades 9 and 12. But they backed down after reaching a compromise with Bou Saab to hold exams but not to grade them until the wage hike was passed.
“[I decided] to give those who took the exams a certificate that would allow their entry into colleges,” Bou Saab told reporters over the weekend. He explained that this move was necessary to safeguard the school year.
Official exams are a must for students who seek to join high school and university, and grade-12 students who are planning to join the Army should hit a specific score in official exams. The exam period is considered a difficult time for students and parents alike.
For Jana, who also preferred to keep her family name anonymous, the minister’s decision was unfair to the students who studied hard.
“I am a good student and I would’ve passed with distinction,” she said. “I didn’t want to just pass like other students.
“My parents got mad too. We studied a lot and if they wanted to make such a decision it would have been better if they canceled the exams,” she said.
“I was very annoyed,” the girl’s mom, Sanaa, chimed in. “People are congratulating me, but I’m not sure for what.”
Sanaa believes that she was denied the joy of celebrating her children’s success.
“This was Jana’s last year, but I still have my younger son,” Sanaa explained. “Hopefully this won’t be repeated for his Grade 12 exams.”
“I feel cheated twice over,” said Samir, a banker and a father of two children who sat for the exams. “Once by the school and once by the ministry.”
Samir’s children had been forced by their school to take private lessons in science because they were weak. For him, Bou Saab’s decision meant that all those costly lessons went to waste.
This is the first year since the Civil War ended in 1990 that passing certificates have been issued, and students are unsure what to expect or how this might affect their future.
Jad has already been accepted into one of Lebanon’s universities to study architecture, but he fears that schools may institute entrance exams to replace the official exams.
As for Jana, she fears that the passing certificates won’t be accepted by international universities.
“[My concern] is that the certificate won’t be recognized when applying for universities outside Lebanon,” she said.
Some took to social media to share their concerns, such as the fate of those who wish to apply for the Military Academy, which generally only accepts those with an average of 12.
The Army will now hold entrance exams for students wanting to join the Military Academy.
Others joked that their cheating skills had been wasted.
A parody YouTube video inspired by the decision was made reflecting students’ current situation.
“I spent the whole year playing, smoking, going on Facebook, staying up late, [busy with] girls,” read the video’s subtitles.
“And then ... the education minister started talking, and decided to give out passing certificates! And there are other students who studied and stayed up late studying and in the end they got a passing certificate just like me.”
Jana’s mother Sanaa said that even though she was disappointed by the turn of events, she was confident that her daughter was prepared for college.
“When students go to university, on the ground it will show who deserved to pass and who didn’t,” she said.