“The Lebanese government is abandoning schools, teachers, and parents to muddle through the acute economic crisis and the pandemic on their own, exacerbating the inequalities between the few children whose parents can afford a quality education and the many who cannot,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“There needs to be an all-hands-on-deck response from the government, donors, and the UN to avert a disaster for children and the country,” she said.
About one third of Lebanon’s school-age population received no education last year, according to HRW. Distance learning imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic was inaccessible for children who lacked devices, internet connections or reliable electricity.
Teachers are suffering from the sharp depreciation of the local currency, with their salaries losing over 90 per cent of their value in two years. In parallel, price inflation has soared. The price of fuel has nearly doubled in the past three weeks alone.
At first, public sector teachers refused to return to work as planned on September 27 without a pay increase. But they agreed to put their strike on hold for a month after Education Minister Abbas Halabi suggested on October 7 a series of incentives, including a salary increase and a transport allowance.
Teacher unions have given him one month to implement his promises, said Hussein Jawad, who heads the public primary school teachers' league. Mr Halabi was not available for comment.
Nisrine Chahine, president of a committee representing part-time teachers, said that teachers were registering children for classes on Monday. However, “If the minister does not give us our rights, we’ll go back to our strike,” she told The National.
Schools lack the funds needed to operate amid steep inflation. Two school principals and a school administrator told HRW that their schools were struggling to afford basic items such as stationary, computer equipment, and hygiene material for Covid-19, and have only a few hours of electricity a day, or none at all.
Only private schools with the necessary resources opened on September 27.
“Even in times of crisis, governments should prioritise access to education for all children, and yet Lebanon’s plans for this school year are late, flawed, or nonexistent,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at HRW.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and the exchange rate are not excuses, they are calls to action for Lebanon’s new government and its international partners to stop the haemorrhaging of children’s education.”