Catholic schools are a seed for an 'open and better' Lebanon
The education system is one of the pillars of society, the pandemic has highlighted its limitations. A multi-factorial crisis, aggravated by a corrupt political system. Rethinking the state budget and adjusting salaries, supporting families. Catholic institutions excel in education. An interview with Professor Gisèle Michel Ayoub for the AsiaNews campaign.
Beirut (AsiaNews) - The education system is one of the "fundamental pillars" of society, and the economic crisis and Covid-19 have "exposed its limits". However, it is essential to support schools so that they can continue their work, especially Catholic schools that have always welcomed "students of different denominations" to form "men and women open to the world and prepared in different disciplines". This is what Gisèle Michel Ayoub, a mathematics and computer science teacher at the Collège des Saints Coeurs in Ain Najm, a suburb to the northeast of the Lebanese capital, told AsiaNews. Born in Beirut, with a master's degree in sociology of education, the teacher is now at the forefront of the crisis in [Catholic and non-Catholic] institutions that has hit the Land of the Cedars and is jeopardising the future of an entire generation. Salaries "barely cover 30% of expenses", families are in difficulty and "the right to education" is at risk. It is a "multi-sectoral crisis" and "without help, without action plans" it will be difficult to continue the year "and even more so next year".
Here is what he told us:
Professor Ayoub, what is the situation of schools in Lebanon?
The education system is one of the fundamental pillars of Lebanese society and the pandemic has exposed its limitations. A whole year of lockdowns, in which schools switched to online learning. This revealed the extent of the problem: power cuts, unstable connections, lack of technological devices, parents at work and children alone at home, the economic and financial crisis... factors that have exacerbated the situation. Teachers have tried to reshape curricula and pedagogical approaches, adapting them, to find new ways of teaching between classes in the school, or online or a hybrid of both. Salaries barely cover 30% of essential expenses (food, transport, medicine) and teachers live with the fear of not being able to guarantee care for children or parents in case of Covid-19 or other. The education system is in danger and Lebanon risks seeing qualified teachers and students with wealthy parents flee abroad.
Is the difficulty caused by Covid and the economic crisis or are there other factors?
Certainly, these two are the main reasons for the emergency. However, this crisis is multi-factorial and is not only related to Covid-19, but also to other elements such as a corrupt political system, which makes the situation even more serious. There is also a food and health crisis, aggravated by the pandemic and the economic recession.
Are there elements of hope in this bleak picture?
There is always a reason for hope that motivates us to get up every morning, leave aside our worries and difficulties, and go into the classroom and teach, believing in this mission. We need a new political and social strategy, a review of economic plans and the study of wages in the public and private sectors. In the meantime, we can count on gestures of solidarity that institutions are trying to ensure, to be able to support teachers in this critical phase.
How can the teachers make their voices heard without going to the detriment of the students, already tried by a complex didactics due to Covid?
I believe that, to date, the only solution is an updated and in-depth study of the state budget, in order to improve the level of schooling while institutions adjust teachers' salaries upwards. Of course, this solution is only applicable at a national level with adjustments in the minimum wage, so that parents in other professions can also benefit from an increase and thereby support their children's schooling. We are facing a vicious circle, although teachers are aware that their profession is also a mission and entails a high level of responsibility towards their pupils. They are the first defenders of the values of the institutions to which they belong, but they also want to make their voices heard.
How much has it affected young people?
Like the teachers, the pupils have to face daily difficulties linked to the pandemic and adapt to distance online learning or the hybrid model, which requires a lot of effort. The economic crisis has affected them because it has first of all affected their parents who live in the same conditions as us teachers. Their right to education is undermined, because many have had to change schools and go to public institutions, where there is often no adequate e- learning. Nowadays, the right to education is not the same for everyone, especially for the poor and middle classes and for those who live in peripheral or rural areas, far from Beirut, where electricity and internet are a problem.
More than an economic problem, we are facing a structural crisis...
The issue is complex, it is a multi-sectoral crisis that touches different areas, starting with the economic side, which mainly affects public schools that feel abandoned by the state. We are without aid, without action plans, there are no initiatives to help teachers and pupils to continue the year. And I am even more worried about the next one.
In conclusion, why are Catholic schools important in Lebanese education?
Catholic schools have always shown excellence in education. Their mission has been going on for decades. Sowing hope among young people and preparing them for a better future has always been their aim. Moreover, they have always welcomed students of different religious denominations and worked to form good citizens of tomorrow, loyal and faithful to the country, with Christian and human principles and values. Capable of accepting others, in a nation characterised by denominational divisions, men and women open to the world and prepared in the various disciplines.
This political, social and economic crisis swamping Lebanon has prompted AsiaNews to launch a fundraising campaign for the benefit of Catholic schools, to support and guarantee at least the right to study for children and young people. Below please information on how you can support the cause.
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