05/20/2020, 14.27
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Lebanon: 80% of Catholic schools risk closure

by Fady Noun

Economic crisis and new coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated an already troubled sector. The lack of state support over the years weighs. The general secretariat of Catholic institutes speaks of "negligence". Government policy puts private schools at a "disadvantage" to public ones. Schools one of Lebanon's cultural "gems". Private schools guarantee schooling to over two thirds of pupils in Lebanon, about 710 thousand pupils.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Lebanon risks a "school emergency" in which "80% of Catholic schools" face closure. This is the alarm issued by the general secretariat, in an open letter sent to the President of the Lebanese Republic Michel Aoun signed by Fr. Boutros Azar. A crisis, explains the priest, due to the "economic difficulties" added to a "negligence" of the state towards a vital sector in the context of the national educational panorama.

In recent days, Pope Francis had donated 400 scholarships to support the education of deserving Lebanese students. However, internal resources and targeted interventions are needed, in order not to see one of the "cultural gems of Lebanon frustrated: the educational level of its population, devoid of religious discrimination, elevated to the rank of a sacred mission".

Lebanon is facing an educational emergency: about 80% of Catholic schools, which provide schooling to about two thirds of the pupils in the country's private institutions, will close their doors for the next school year 2020-2021, due to the lack of resources. This potential time bomb was announced yesterday by the general secretariat of Catholic schools, led by Fr. Boutros Azar, in an open letter sent to the President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun. This development, explains Fr. Azar, is due "to the economic difficulties encountered by these schools and to state negligence ".

The open letter made public by Fr. Boutros Azar goes straight to the heart of the matter: “This open letter is proposed as a warning that we address to you, in the name of our educational and national responsibility; and the central point is that the majority of the schools affiliated to our congregations (no less than 80% of them) are heading towards a forced closure due to the economic situation and the negligence of the State in the fulfillment of their duties. So these schools will not open their doors at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. "

Questioned by L’Orient-Le Jour (LOJ), Fr. Azar specifies that with the expression "state negligence", the secretariat refers to the law 46/2018 which has changed the wage scale in the public sector and placed all educational institutions, even the largest in great difficulty. For middle sized and small schools, especially semi-free ones subsidized by the state (which has not paid its share for five years), only one choice remains: to close or drastically cut teachers' salaries.

“I don't really understand this neglect- underlines Fr. Boutros Azar – this putting private schools at a to public schools. The state should recognize the fact that we perform a public service and subsidize private schools. "

The priest and pedagogue adds that the depreciation of the national currency, which has impoverished the whole population, compounds the situation. The closure of schools following the demonstrations in October and the one imposed, later on, by the new coronavirus pandemic discouraged pupils' parents, who asked for a reduction in school fees in proportion to the number of closed days (approximately 40% of the school year). This despite the fact that, as revealed by a reliable source, only half of the tuition required was actually poured into the coffers of private schools.

Hundreds of thousands of pupils

"What emerges today from the Federation of Private Schools of Lebanon and from the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools confirms that we are facing a generalized challenge for the private education sector, which provides schooling to over two thirds of pupils in Lebanon (710 thousand students, compared to 260 thousand in public education).

The loss resulting from all that has been said above undoubtedly exceeds the material dimension, and can be considered as a major national loss, which adds to the series of losses affecting the country at the moment.

This forced closure - reads the appeal - will force hundreds of thousands of students to seek a place in the public schools. Not to mention the loss of jobs for tens of thousands of teachers, employees and workers, as well as the increase in unemployment and poverty in the country, and all the resources we have are not enough to avoid this danger ".

A number of large schools, well rooted in the area, have also been impacted by this alarming prospect that looms on the horizon. According to reliable data, at least 87 of the large schools concentrated mostly in the area of Mount Lebanon, mainly Christian, will continue to carry out their educational mission. Asked by the Orient-Le Jour (LOJ) a leading ecclesiastical source, responsible for the educational institutions, warns of the dangers inherent in losing one of the cultural gems of Lebanon: the educational level of its population, devoid of religious discrimination, elevated to the rank of a sacred mission.

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