BEIRUT: The Union Coordination Committee (UCC) will make a final decision Tuesday on whether to end its boycott of marking official exams, despite a statement by the Education Ministry saying that its decision to issue passing certificates for all students has already gone into effect.
The Association of Private School Teachers announced Monday after holding a general assembly that it would end its boycott. The strike’s aim is to pressure Parliament to pass a long-awaited salary raise for the public sector.
“After discussion, the general assembly unanimously voted to continue with all forms of movement and escalation until the salary raise is approved and to go back on the decision to boycott correcting exams,” the association said in a statement.
The association’s head Nehme Mahfoud told The Daily Star by phone that the decision was made solely by the private school teachers while other groups of the UCC held different stances on the matter.
The association had previously stated that it is committed to the UCC’s position to boycott the correction of the official exams until the approval of the wage hike. However, the statement said that Monday’s decision to reconsider the stance was “for the sake of [safeguarding] the quality of education in Lebanon ... against the non-educational decision by the education minister.”
Faced with the teachers’ ongoing strike, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab said over the weekend that he had decided to issue passing certificates for all Grade 9 and Grade 12 students who took the official exams.
Teachers at secondary public schools during their general assembly called for carrying on with the boycott.
Hanna Gharib, the head of the League of Secondary Public School Teachers, delivered a speech in which he called for a united UCC decision to defend its existence by not budging on the decision to boycott the correction procedures.
“We should not back down under the pressure. If the minister is trying to burn the card we hold, we should retort by holding on to this card. They cannot issue passing certificates every year,” he said.
Gharib rejected any blame for the minister’s decision, saying that the UCC had opposed the issuance of passing certificates from the start.
“We are not embarrassed by the issuing of passing certificates. The step was proposed by the minister alone and not by the UCC,” he said.
Gharib praised the united front that the UCC put up to counter the minister’s pressure and called for continuing the battle for teachers’ rights, even if this year’s round might be lost.
“They simply failed to infiltrate our position or break our decision, and the retaliation was issuing the passing grades,” Gharib said.
Gharib stressed that despite differences in opinion among teachers, the UCC would come up with one united stance on whether to end the boycott during a meeting Tuesday, underlining that the group would remain united.
But the Education Ministry said in a short statement that Bou Saab’s decision to issue passing certificates was final and had gone into effect.
“The decision to issue passing certificates has gone into effect and students can now enroll in universities,” said a statement released by the Education Ministry late Monday. It added that the move would be “legalized” later. Issuing passing certificates requires Parliament’s approval.
Lebanon has not had to resort to issuing passing certificates in lieu of grading exams since the end of the Civil War in 1990. Passing certificates were issued on several occasions during the 15-year-long civil strife, either because exams could not be held or because rounds of fighting prevented correction.
Mahfoud had notified The Daily Star Sunday that the teachers might decide to correct the exams, while continuing all other current methods of protest.
The union leader said he was aware that Bou Saab was using passing certificates to pressure the union, but maintained that teachers would take the necessary decisions to protect students.
“If the UCC decides to correct [the exams], and the minister refuses, let him take responsibility for ruining the students’ academic future.”