BEIRUT: Parents and students voiced frustration Monday over the standoff between teachers and the government that has threatened to derail official exams, expressing hope that the decision to delay testing would open the door for a resolution.
While most who spoke to The Daily Star supported the Union Coordination Committee’s demand that the government approve a public sector wage hike, they were nearly unanimous in denouncing the decision to boycott exam grading if the salary scale was not passed, with one parent likening the strike to a hostage standoff.
“Even if they are demanding their rights, they shouldn’t drag our children into it,” said Majed Kallash, a 54-year-old father of three, of the teachers’ threat to strike.
“It’s no different than kidnapping someone,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab announced that Brevet and Baccalaureate exams for Grade 9 and Grade 12 students would be postponed for five days in the hopes that Parliament will pass the new salary scale on June 10. He was vague on alternative solutions should the salary scale fail to pass, but vowed there would not be a repeat of 2010, when a similar standoff saw exams held in August.
Students are required to pass the Brevet exams to move on to high school, while graduating seniors must pass the Baccalaureate before they receive their diplomas and enroll in university.
Shermine Iskandar, whose daughter is in Grade 9 at the Collège Notre-Dame de Jamhour, was hopeful that a solution would be reached in a timely manner.
“If [the delay] is only five days it’s okay, I just didn’t want it to drag all summer. Having to be prepared all summer, this is what scares me,” she said. “I don’t want to be in a situation where we don’t know if there will be a test or not.”
“It’s too bad [about the delay] because they studied, they’re ready,” she added.
Students also shuddered at the thought that their summer vacations would be spent studying to retain what they had learned throughout the year.
“Everyone was really upset that they changed the date because my friends are traveling and have weddings and stuff,” said Tala Farah, 15, a Brevet student at International College. “We wanted to finish on June 11, because it’s summer and we wanted to get it over with.”
“The teachers better not boycott the correction of the exams: I’ve been studying all year for it!” said an exasperated Deema Hammoud, 14, a Brevet student at Collège Protestant Francais.
Others were praying that a solution would not be reached. “I really hope they do cancel the exams!” said Sevine Halwani, 15, also a student at Collège Protestant Francais.
Yehya al-Kaakeh, 17, has already been accepted to a university, but he cannot enroll until he passes his final exams for the Baccalaureate.
“Everything depends on the government. We have to take our exams, it’s absolutely vital,” he said. “This is our diploma we’re talking about.”
Some parents threw their weight behind the teachers and hoped for the best.
“They [teachers] want their rights,” said Hussein Ismail, 47, a father of four children aged 4 to 19. “It’s been three years [the government has failed to pass the wage scale].”
Lynn Abdel Malak, a veteran teacher at Collège Protestant Francais, said she was sympathetic to the stress placed on parents, but she was resolute in backing the movement.
“Teaching is a great occupation, but an unrewarding one,” she said.
Hana al-Kurdi, another teacher at the Collège Protestant Francais, said she was torn between the fair demands of teachers and the parents’ concerns for their children.
“The teachers are requesting a legitimate request, while the parents are stressed out and lost,” she said.
“As a parent of a son who will be sitting for the exam, I’m not happy to be in this gray area. I’m also annoyed when I see my son placing bets with his friends on whether or not the exams will take place – he’s not focused on studying anymore,” she said. – Additional reporting by Rayyan Dabbous