BEIRUT: Education Minister Hassan Diab said that official exams would inevitably be postponed, given the ongoing teachers’ strike, adding that the ministry would strategize on how to minimize the delay.
While teachers, students and their parents are not happy with the strike, they blame the government for putting off referring the issue of a salary raise to the Parliament.
“Public schools have not held classes for a month, there is no way not to postpone [official exams], no matter how many make-up sessions we have, we [have to postpone],” Diab told The Daily Star. “Now for how long we will have to postpone is another issue.”
He said the ministry might maneuver to make use of weekends and holidays to minimize the delay.
“We might postpone only for one week, which is not a big deal,” he said.
The Union Coordination Committee, a coalition of teachers and public sector employees, began an open-ended strike Feb. 19 to pressure the government to refer a long-awaited pay hike to the Parliament.
The move came after the UCC held several one-day strikes at the start of the academic year. The government said it was working out a means to finance the salary raise before referring it. There is a possibility that the Cabinet will refer it to Parliament during its Thursday session.
Diab said that a meeting held last week by the ministerial committee, tasked with studying the financial means to sustain a salary raise, yielded positive results.
“The atmosphere of the last meeting of the ministerial committee was positive. ... I do not want to commit, but I expect that [Thursday], the recommendations made [by the committee] will be approved [by the Cabinet],” he said.
“If the strike continues [after Thursday], it will not only be a problem, but a disaster, particularly for grade 12 students who will miss the deadline for university applications,” he said.
Students in Lebanon have to pass official exams in grade 9 to enroll in high school, and grade 12 students have to pass the exams to attend university.
Private school teachers had initiallyparticipated in the UCC strike. However, after a few days of striking, the teachers announced a change in their tactic and resumed teaching.
Still, private schools took some measures to make up for lost time. St. Joseph School in Metn, for instance, shortened the Easter break.
Private school teachers will, however, be striking Thursday when the Cabinet meets, ostensibly to put more pressure, on top of the ongoing strike, on the Cabinet.
Rima al-Bast, a grade 12 student at Qob Elias Public Secondary School in the Bekaa Valley, said that the student’s futures were being jeopardized by the strike, but holds the government and not the teachers responsible.
“For sure it is a very bad thing that official exams will be delayed, this means that the results will be delayed despite our deadlines for applying to universities,” she said. “But we cannot blame the teachers who are asking for their rights.”
For his part, Abdel-Aziz Shehab, a history teacher at a public school in Beirut, acknowledged that many teachers were “tired and bored of the daily strikes and protests.”
“The teachers and the Cabinet are in a deadlock, and the government is responsible for this deadlock,” he said. “We began this strike with the aim of getting our rights and we will not end it before [our aims are reached].”
Shehab, who teaches grade 9 students, expressed his readiness to give students extra sessions to make up for the lost school days from the strike.
However, he expected that the students who attend public school would score lower-than-usual averages in their official exams, given that the remaining curriculum material would be taught in a hurry during the make-up sessions.
Although she is a staunch supporter of the teachers’ demands, Shahnaz Harb, a mother of five, complained about the negative effects the ongoing strike would have on her children.
“If the strike continues, the children will be distracted by activities other than their studies,” she said. “When the strike is over, lessons will be rushed, which is bad for students.”
But Harb refrained from blaming the teachers, saying the government should have addressed their needs a long time ago:
“When teachers get their rights, they give our children their rights.”
Like many other teachers, Hafiza, a public school teacher, is having trouble reconciling her interests as a teacher with those of her son, who is a student at a public school.
“We are stuck between two fires: As teachers and public sector employees, we want to get our rights, but at the same time, we want our children to go back to school,” she said.
“We hope that the issue will be resolved Thursday.”