BEIRUT: After a last-minute deal following a tense stand-off over a disputed pay raise bill, middle school children across Lebanon Friday began the first day of exams that will determine whether they are admitted into secondary school next year.
Outside Shakib Arslan public school in the Beirut neighborhood of Verdun, students gathered in small groups. Despite the early hour, they were wide-eyed, standing on the sidewalks outside the school’s gate.
Hussein Khamis, 15, said it wasn't a big difference if the exams were Friday or Thursday.
"I wish I could have watched the World Cup," lamented Khamis. Instead he was cramming in some last-minute studying.
After one delay and the threat of another, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab reached a deal with the Union Coordination Committee late Tuesday to postpone the start of official exams from Thursday to Friday despite the failure of Parliament to pass the wage hike. While the deal might bring relief to students anxious to get the exams out of the way, the teachers have not agreed to grade the tests, holding out for their raises and setting up more waiting this summer for the results.
But for Khamis’ father, the nerve-wracking experience gave him a headache.
“Last week was full of stress,” he said. "I felt so bad because my son had been emotionally and physically drained."
Ralf Sawma, 15, said he studied all week. “So I wasn't concerned if there would be exams or not.”
He also echoed Khamis, saying “if I weren't studying, I would have watched the World Cup.”
Outside Salma al-Sayegh school in Ashrafieh, the mood was similar.
Hundreds of nervous parents and students waited outside the school, blocking traffic in the neighborhood.
Notebooks in hand, some were studying right up until the exams began.
Melissa Machaaliny said she wasn’t very worried about the test.
"We had lots of time to prepare. Last night, I went over the things I still had to study and then put my books away at 6 p.m.," she said.
Hassan Tannir said he had been studying between 14 and 16 hours a day for the test.
"I’m not nervous. It’s like any other test, but official."
Still, he said he was concerned about the Arabic section: "It’s a really hard subject to study."
After the Friday exam, Tannir said he would spend the day outside with his friends.
Official exams for Grade 12 are scheduled for next week and the week after.