BEIRUT: As teachers across the country vowed not to return to work until Cabinet submits a revised pay scale to Parliament, parents expressed mixed feelings toward the stalemate between educators and the government.
“My opinion is that they [teachers] have the right to demand their rights, but by asking for it this way and at this time, the situation of the country does not allow for these demands to be met so quickly,” said Elissar Geagea, whose four children attend a private school where teachers have promised weekend makeup sessions.
“It’s annoying, the children feel tired and there is no stability when they have school one day and the next they don’t,” she added. “It’s not good for the children.”
Faten, who declined to give her last name, said her family was not affected by the strike because her children attend one of the private schools, which remained open.
She said she was against closing schools “because it hurts the children,” but did not see a way out of the current stalemate. “Nothing gets fixed in Lebanon, and no one in the government cares,” she said.
Diana Abbani, a history teacher at the Lycee Verdun in Beirut, said she understands the parents’ concerns. But like many teachers who spoke to The Daily Star, she feels there is no alternative to the action after the government’s repeated failure to refer the long-awaited wage hike to Parliament.
“Nobody is more worried than we are,” about students falling behind, she said, adding that this would hardly be the first time teachers have had to push their students to make up for unexpected interruptions to their studies.
“Each time they close schools because of political problems, nobody talks about how we are going to catch up, but now, because the teachers are deciding to strike, they are making a fuss about losing school days,” she said. “After the 2006 war [with Israel], our school started in November, a month-and-a-half late. You can always manage to finish the curriculum.”
Teachers’ strikes are nothing new in Lebanon. Last year, results of official examinations were delayed due to striking teachers.
Union activity has also picked up in recent years following the founding of the Union Coordination Committee, which represents a number of teachers’ unions and other public sector employee associations that have split from the General Labor Confederation.
The UCC has planned a series of sit-ins and escalatory measures this week to increase pressure on the government to pass the long-awaited wage hike to Parliament. One activist who spoke with The Daily Star mentioned the possibility of occupying ministries.
Some parents have suggested their own creative means of escalation.
“We’re thinking of sending our children to school anyway, even though there are no classes. Having all those kids and nobody supervising them will push the administration and the teachers to work together,” said Mohammad, who asked that his last name not appear in print. His two sons attend a private school in Beirut.
Unlike public schools, private schools do not need to wait for the outcome of Cabinet’s funding study, but many are waiting for Parliament ratification before they implement the raise.
Education Minister Hassan Diab said he was optimistic the showdown over salaries would be resolved by next week, adding that any delay to the official exam schedule was highly unlikely at this point.
“The trust between the public sector and the government [must] be restored – that trust has been missing for a long time,” he told The Daily Star. “The government wants to make sure [the salary hike] does not destabilize the economy, and hopefully next week we will have a finalized plan.”
UNICEF education specialist Wafa Kotob said that while her agency did not take a political position, the conflict between teachers and the government should be solved as soon as possible for the sake students and teachers alike.
“Of course school is the most appropriate environment to allow for the growth and development of children,” she said. “But we also understand the teachers’ perspective on this, and historically teachers have been underpaid in Lebanon ... Teachers need to be empowered and their capacities have to be built in order for them to give children the best services possible.”