BEIRUT: An already nerve-wracking experience for thousands of Lebanese youths, Lebanon's official exams that should simply be a mundane rite of passage are instead in the limelight for yet another year as unions battle with the government over a long-stalled public sector wage hike.
Lebanese students are required to pass the Brevet exams in Grade 9 to move on to high school, while graduating seniors must pass the Baccalaureate in Grade 12 before they can receive their diplomas and enroll in university. A Baccalaureate certificate also allows Lebanese to work in any government institution.
The Baccalaureate exam has four main options the students can take, largely depending on their interests as well as academic performance: literature and humanities, which focuses on language, literature, history and philosophy; sociology and economics, which focuses on economic sciences, politics, business, and sociology; general sciences, which focuses on mathematics, physics and chemistry; and life sciences, which includes biology, chemistry and their applications for the fields of medicine and health.
The curriculum used to include an official examination that took place at the end of primary school, but it has since been canceled, as was the Baccalaureate I official exam for 11th graders.
To make its point about the necessity of the pay raise, the Union Coordination Committee held a two-day strike Monday and Tuesday that not only closed public schools across Lebanon but also disrupted the operations of ministries, public departments and institutions as well as municipalities.
The UCC has already announced that it is boycotting the exams this year, initially prompting Education Minister Elias Bou Saab to postpone them for five days. However, he vowed there would be no repeat of 2010, when a similar standoff saw exams postponed from June until August. The union and the minister have agreed to hold the exams Friday, though it is unclear when the teachers will correct them.
Teachers also boycotted the grading process in 2012 as a result of Parliament failing to pass the very same salary scale bill.
While it is not yet known whether there will be teachers to moderate the tests starting Thursday, the Education Ministry has already handed out the students’ exam cards.
Approximately 100,000 students take the exams every year, which have been held since before Lebanon’s independence in 1943 as a product of the French Mandate.
Only during the Civil War were exams, particularly the Brevet, cancelled due to intense fighting between 1975 and 1990.
Each test is prepared by a committee composed of between 10 and 15 professional teachers.
The head of the committee is always a well-known professor with significant experience in the subject, according to Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private School Teachers Association.
The committee gathers the night before at the Education Ministry and readies the exam set for the next day. Members of the committee are then timed as they take the exam themselves. Teachers will reduce or increase the number of questions depending on how long it takes, and modify any parts they feel are unclear.
The committee usually stays up until after midnight, and the exam goes to print at 1 a.m., Mahfoud said.
After the test has been taken, the committee gathers between 400 and 500 teachers and shows them how to properly correct the exams.
“Not just about anyone can correct the exams,” Mahfoud stressed. “The teacher also needs to be currently teaching the subject matter.”
Teachers correcting the official exams also need official documents signed by their school directors signifying that they teach the appropriate subject and grade.
The teachers begin grading either the same day or the day after students take the test, a source at the Education Ministry told The Daily Star.
Exams are proctored by public school teachers, most of whom already have previous monitoring experience, the source added.
Students are given approximately a month to study for exams, which cover the entire year’s curriculum. Those who score between 14 and 20 on the 20-point scale receive honorable mentions.
Students who fail the first round of exams, usually held at the beginning of summer, can take the second round in late summer. All exams take place after classes have ended for the year.
Passing the Baccalaureate is crucial in Lebanon, as nearly all higher learning institutions require it.
Many universities abroad also will not admit Lebanese students unless they have passed their official exams.