12/23/2022, 10.27
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The socio-economic crisis and Lebanese Catholic schools

The political stalemate and the economy on its knees is impacting education. In the public sector, teachers go on strike over non-payment of salaries. Despite the difficulties, the number of students in Church-related institutes is growing. Fr Youssef Nasr: with the pandemic an "educational and pedagogical loss" that "we must recover".



Beirut (AsiaNews) - One year on from the AsiaNews' campaign for Lebanese Catholic schools, the educational emergency remains topical and is linked to the political and institutional crisis in the country, without a president of the Republic and with an interim executive. A government with reduced powers, incapable of dealing with the multiple factors of crisis and too many external interferences.

This is recounted by the secretary general of the institutes, Fr Youssef Nasr, who is also the coordinator of all the public schools and knows the educational reality well. "In recent months," he explains, "the number of students in private schools has increased, because there is a lack of confidence in public schools. In spite of the crisis and limited resources,' he adds, parents are trying to invest in their children's education, 'so much so that today there are more than 200,000 pupils' in 330 Catholic institutes of various orders and grades in the territory.

The economic, political and institutional crisis in Lebanon is increasingly jeopardising the education system and the century-old network of Catholic schools, which in addition to providing an excellent level of education are a privileged meeting place for young Christians and Muslims. From running costs to teachers' salaries, inflation-related price increases and the loss of power of the lira are draining the schools' coffers. With the Covid-19 pandemic, closures and distance learning, the phenomenon of school drop-outs has also been recorded for the first time.

The Lebanese crisis, Fr Nasr stressed to AsiaNews, has "two faces: political and economic" and is due to the fact that the different factions, Christians as well as Muslims, are "on very different sides". 'The whole system,' he warns, 'is not working because no decisions are being taken, even the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are blocked, while we need action to start a rehabilitation'. To date 'it is impossible' to know how long it will take to elect a head of state, which is 'the key' to the problems, 'but this key is not in the possession of the Lebanese. We must do something, even if the decisions are taken abroad'.

In the meantime, the school year has been underway for three months and classes are running smoothly for the time being. This, at least, in the Catholic (and private) schools, because in the public sector teachers have called a strike to protest against the non-payment of salaries, at least the dollar portion. 'We are holding classes regularly,' says the general secretary, 'but we do not know how long we will be able to do so. We have two challenges: the operating costs in dollars and the teachers' salaries, while the heating costs are getting higher and higher. There is a real threat,' he continues, 'of closure or a strike of the teaching staff even in the private sector, because teachers' salaries are not enough for a decent living'. And the same criticism, on the side of families, emerges in paying school fees: 'One part,' he points out, 'is in Lebanese lira and the other in dollars, and not everyone manages to pay that in dollars. 

For some time, schools have been receiving funding in local currency, but not in dollars, which are blocked in banks. The fear, explains Fr Youssef Nasr, is that "the system could collapse", which is why "we are looking for help from NGOs to international associations" to help collect the sums needed for teachers' salaries and fuel purchases. "A vicious circle," he adds, "that links the educational emergency to the economic and political crisis, with serious consequences" for young people. 

The financial aspect is then added to the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic: "We have lived through two difficult years," the priest says, "having to resort to distance learning" and other forms of mixed teaching. We register, he continues, "an educational and pedagogical loss, a poverty" that pushes us to "redouble our efforts to give the student a chance to recover". Hence the decision to promote a remedial programme alongside traditional teaching, which however requires 'greater efforts' at a time of limited resources. Lastly, a thought on the upcoming festivities that "we are trying to live almost normally", setting aside luxuries and waste for a celebration to be lived "with humility: this is the message of Christmas," he concludes, "in a time of crisis, we are like Christ born in a grotto", but full of "love and hope". 

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