BEIRUT: Education Minister Elias Bou Saab’s decision to issue passing certificates to all students would likely have a negligible effect on grade 9 and 12 students, Lebanese universities and school representatives said Monday. At the American University of Beirut, admission does not rely on official exams alone.
The need to present official exam scores is a way to confirm that students passed.
“The passing certificates won’t have much of an impact because acceptance into AUB depends on two things,” explained Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Salim Kanaan. “It depends on their school grades in grades 10 and 11 and on the SAT 1.”
Over the weekend, Bou Saab announced that he would be issuing passing certificates to an estimated 148,000 students who took the official exams this summer.
Bou Saab’s decision came as negotiations with the Union Coordination Committee, representing civil servants and teachers, came to a deadlock, after debate over the means to finance the wage hike bill for the public sector reached a debilitating impasse in Parliament. The UCC has been boycotting grading in a bid to pressure Parliament to endorse the bill.
The Association of Private School Teachers, which is part of the UCC, announced Monday that it would end its boycott of correcting official exams, while the secondary school teachers announced that its boycott would continue. The UCC will meet Tuesday to make a final decision on the matter. But sources close to Bou Saab told The Daily Star that any UCC decision was too late now.
The admission deadline at AUB was in December and acceptance letters were given out in March, emphasizing the fact that official exams aren’t the only deciding factor for grade 12 students looking to enroll in university.
Kanaan explained that normally a student’s full acceptance was conditional on their passing the exams.
Many Lebanese universities do not accept students who fail their official exams, regardless of success in entrance exams.
According to Kanaan, since the fall semester will kick off in the next few weeks, and since the Education Ministry is not expected to issue passing certificates immediately, students are expected to present the university with their exam cards, which students are required to possess to take the official exam.
“But once the ministry issues the certificates they are expected to present the university with it,” Kanaan said. “Those who have lied [about having taken the exams] will be asked to leave the institution.”
The Lebanese American University also bases its decision to accept an application on SAT scores and grade 10 and 11 results.
However, according to Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management Abdo Ghie, excellent students who are awaiting a scholarship will be greatly affected by the ministry’s decision.
“Many students did everything they could and were hoping for a scholarship,” he said, referring to a government program run by the National Council for Scientific Research, under which students with the top five official exam scores are given scholarships to Lebanon’s elite universities.
“I don’t think that the scholarship program will be in effect,” Ghie explained, adding however that he couldn’t decide for the council in this regard.
Parents and students were divided over the impact of Bou Saab’s decision. While some were angered because of the time and effort they had spent preparing for the exams, others said they were satisfied with the decision.
The education minister’s decision marks the first time these kinds of official certificates have been issued in Lebanon since the Civil War ended in 1990.
“It was about time,” said LAU’s Chair of the Education Department Rima Bahous, when asked about her reaction to Bou Saab’s decision.
As an education expert, Bahous said a decision had to be taken, and as a result of the UCC strike, there were no alternatives.
“The ministry had to decide and stick by its decision,” she said. “Now whether it was the right thing to do or not, the future will tell us.”
Head of Catholic Schools in Lebanon, Father Boutros Azar, echoed Bahous’ comments.
“We were very keen to make sure that students got their official [exam grades] certificates, but unfortunately that didn’t happen,” Azar told The Daily Star over the phone. “But we decided to side with any measure that would free students, enabling them to figure out what to do with the upcoming school year.”
Grade 9 students should not be too delighted about Bou Saab’s decision, as school grades are now a deciding factor in whether they can move up to high school.
“Even when the official exams process was done properly, students that passed grade 9 official exams but didn’t get good school grades were not promoted to grade 10,” Azar said, explaining the process for new students at Catholic schools.
An official at a Lebanese international school, who preferred to remain anonymous, clarified that his school put a lot of weight on the entrance exams, private lessons and study groups to make sure that students enrolled in grade 10 were the cream of the crop.
“Those who wish to enroll in grade 10 must pass their school exams with high grades,” he said.
Regardless of whether the decision to issue passing certificates is fair, many agreed that those deserving to be in grade 10 or university would prove themselves against all the odds.
“Usually, official exams serve as some sort of a filter, but now this will happen during the university’s first semester,” Ghie said. “Good-caliber students who are annoyed by the decision will not experience major impacts after one semester at the university.”
“A good, hard-working student will do well no matter what,” Bahous agreed.