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Lebanon News

UCC to maintain exams boycott, blames politicians

Minister Elias Bou Saab speaks to reporters upon his arrival at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Union Coordination Committee announced Tuesday that it would stay committed to its decision to boycott the correcting of official exams, with the long-awaited salary raise for public sector workers still to be approved.

The union berated politicians for giving students passing certificates in spite of its protest.

“Education Minister Elias Bou Saab and the Cabinet which backed his decision are the ones responsible for issuing the certificates,” the UCC statement said.

“You disagree in politics, but you are united in attacking our rights and attacking the Union Coordination Committee,” the statement added, addressing Cabinet ministers.

The union said it had been left with no choice but to maintain its boycott, vowing to file a lawsuit with the help of former Interior Minister and lawyer Ziad Baroud to prevent the certificates from being distributed.

Stressing that it would be drawing up a new action plan for the coming period, the UCC said the 2014-15 academic year would commence “normally” on Sept. 1.

The Representative Council for the Public Administration League echoed the UCC’s sentiments, calling for a general strike Thursday “in all ministries, administrations, governorates, qadas and municipalities,” and a protest at 11 a.m. facing the Economy Ministry in the Azarieh Building in Downtown Beirut.

The UCC convened a meeting to settle a disagreement between teachers on whether they should go back on the decision to boycott the grading of exams. The Secondary School Teachers League, headed by Hanna Gharib, had called for a continuation of the boycott, while Nehme Mahfoud’s Association of Private School Teachers had said it would mark the exams for the sake of “protecting the students’ academic futures.”

Earlier in the day, Parliament’s Education Committee recommended that lawmakers draft a law to legalize the passing certificates, stressing that the decision to issue them would be final, even if the teachers changed their minds about the boycott.

Bou Saab said he had made the controversial decision to issue certificates to deter the UCC from using students as a tool against politicians in their mission to get the wage hike to pass in Parliament.

Bou Saab pointed to precedent in an effort to justify his decision, saying certificates had been issued in the past with Parliament approval.

“The legalization of certificates occurred in 1975, 1978, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1991,” he said.

As for the military school, which usually asks that applicants have at least a 60-percent average in the Grade 12 official exams, Bou Saab said the defense minister and the Army would meet to find a solution. An Education Ministry source told The Daily Star that the passing certificates would be given not only to students who actually took the official exams, but to all who had applied for them.

The candidacy card, a document given to the students allowing them to attend the exams, will be enough to ensure they pass, even if they did not attend. While most students applying to university this year likely attended the exams, there are a number of applicants each year who do not show up.

Separately, the Education Committee tasked Bou Saab with contacting the head of the Lebanese University to recommend establishing an entrance exam as a prerequisite for all its faculties.

According to the committee’s recommendation, any student with a passing certificate who wishes to enter the LU for the next academic year should take an entrance exam.

Only a few of the LU’s faculties have required incoming students to take entrance tests in previous years. However, the education minister’s decision to give passing certificates to all Grade 12 students means that even those who might have failed the official exam would be eligible for admission.

Bou Saab said the high number of incoming students at private universities should be filtered with entrance exams, and urged the LU to do the same. He also said the challenging first year of university would be enough to weed out students who did not deserve to attend.

Bou Saab said he was surprised the UCC was still holding meetings. “They have already missed the train and the certificates have become a fact,” he said. “Instead, they should discuss how to continue with their union work.”

In what seemed to be a response to this comment, a UCC source told LBCI that the parliamentary committee was “supposed to discuss the salary scale.”

For the past three years, the UCC has spearheaded ongoing nationwide protests and held open-ended strikes calling for the legislation that would enable the pay rise. However, the Parliament, which extended its mandate for 17 months in May 2013 and is likely to extend it again this month, has failed to enact the long-awaited draft law.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 20, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

The Union Coordination Committee announced Tuesday that it would stay committed to its decision to boycott the correcting of official exams, with the long-awaited salary raise for public sector workers still to be approved.

The union berated politicians for giving students passing certificates in spite of its protest.

An Education Ministry source told The Daily Star that the passing certificates would be given not only to students who actually took the official exams, but to all who had applied for them.

While most students applying to university this year likely attended the exams, there are a number of applicants each year who do not show up.

According to the committee's recommendation, any student with a passing certificate who wishes to enter the LU for the next academic year should take an entrance exam.

However, the education minister's decision to give passing certificates to all Grade 12 students means that even those who might have failed the official exam would be eligible for admission.


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