BEIRUT: Education Minister Elias Bou Saab announced Monday the postponement of official exams, but stopped short of outlining an alternative solution if Parliament failed to pass the salary scale demanded by teachers.
“Due to the current situation facing the country and under the difficult psychological situation the students are going through in terms of ‘exams or no exams,’ we cannot but announce the postponement of the official exams,” Bou Saab said at a news conference at the Education Ministry in Beirut.
“In case an agreement is not reached with the Union Coordination Committee [representing teachers and civil servants] to hold exams starting on June 12, I will be forced to make a decision in the interest of the students, their families and the academic year, especially for public high school students who are planning on entering university [in the fall].”
According to the minister, Brevet exams would be postponed from June 7 to June 12, while Baccalaureate exams would be postponed from June 12 to June 16 and June 22 to June 27. The exams are crucial for Grade 9 students to move on to high school and graduating seniors to enter university.
Bou Saab warned he would take “unprecedented” steps in order to avoid a repetition of what happened in 2010, when official exams were not held until August.
He emphasized that the postponement of the tests did not affect his support for teachers’ rights.
“We will continue to support the rightful demands of the UCC, all their demands,” he said. “However, the interests of students and official exams remain a supreme national interest that we cannot abandon.”
Earlier in the day, UCC head Hanna Gharib threatened to escalate the union’s campaign starting June 7 – the day tests were set to start – unless Parliament approved the wage hike.
“The entire government will be paralyzed on June 7, including official exams, if we are not given our rights,” Gharib warned during a sit-in outside a public secondary school in the Beirut neighborhood of Corniche al-Mazraa.
Gharib also addressed rumors that the Grade 9 official exams would be canceled.
“The official Brevet certificate is a red line; it is [a matter of] national sovereignty and education,” he said. “[We will consider] any cancelation of exams an escalation.”
He said the UCC was committed to “open communication” to ensure both teachers’ and students’ rights.
“We want the pay hike on June 10,” Gharib warned. Parliament is scheduled to discuss a modified salary scale draft law for civil servants and public sector teachers that has failed to pass in the nearly three years the UCC has been agitating for it.
Meanwhile, the head of the private school teachers union, Nehme Mahfoud, proposed an interim solution for the contentious wage hike.
The proposal calls on Parliament to endorse cost-of-living raises as well as an “advance grant” for the new salary scale, as lawmakers take their time to study the figures.
Bou Saab also said he was considering proposing a “compromise” that would raise teacher salaries in installments. A similar plan was already vehemently rejected by the UCC.
“If we reach a solution, we will present the UCC with a written proposal and wait for a response,” he told reporters, adding: “I am against postponement. We have postponed [exams] once, and we cannot keep [students] hostage.”