Lebanon teachers' strike: Government must unlock education funding or sector won't survive, say teachers

5 min read

Public sector schools in Lebanon have not yet reopened since the Christmas break following a wave of teachers' strikes. The schools were due to open on 9 January, but plummeting conditions have prompted teachers to return to industrial action in the midst of an economy in freefall.  

Nearly 350,000 Lebanese students, and 40,000 teachers in the state education sector (primary and secondary) remain outside classrooms, meaning state education in Lebanon has been effectively frozen since 20 December 2022. Before this, teachers had implemented a warning strike two days before the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Syrian refugee children at school in Lebanon face the same predicament - on January 10, the Director General of  the Ministry of Education, Imad Achkar, suspended their schooling until the situation for Lebanese students had also been resolved, citing the need for "equal treatment". Syrian children had been attending public-sector schools in the afternoons, and Lebanese in the morning sessions, with the teaching of Syrian children funded entirely by international donors.  

"State education in Lebanon has been effectively frozen since 20 December 2022"

In December, the school week had also been reduced to four days to cut costs, with some schools offering only two days. Alongside other demands, teachers are questioning why basic necessities for running the schools, like heating, electricity and books, haven't been made available, despite some of the funds from overseas donors having been deposited into the state's school funding pots.  

Teachers' salaries – eroded by 90% 

Teachers, along with the rest of the Lebanese population, are struggling to get by as runaway inflation shows no sign of abating; between 2019 and 2022, teachers' salaries lost more than 90% of their value. Teachers are currently earning the equivalent of around just $50  per month; barely enough to cover transportation costs, according to  inews. 

Many teachers, like Nisreen Shaheen, have taken matters into their own hands, operating through independent trade unions that circumvent what they say are the politically compromised traditional ones. 

At the heart of the dispute with the government are per diems and monthly allowances to address the hyperinflation in the country and cover increasing transportation and health costs for the teachers, some of whom are on permanent government contracts while others are on precarious temporary agreements. Both have been affected by the crisis. 

Tens of millions of dollars have been earmarked for schools' funding pots over the last two years by donors - but the money hasn't materialised in the form of funding for schools or teachers, according to Shaheen.

Issues around aid money not reaching the intended beneficiaries has long been a problem in Lebanon. International donors at an annual conference on aid for displaced Syrians in 2022 urged for Lebanon to alter policies preventing aid from reaching the schools it was supposedly being provided for. More than a billion dollars have been ploughed into Lebanon's education system since 2017 in the form of overseas aid, according to a 2022 report  by Human Rights Watch. 

"Tens of millions of dollars have been earmarked for schools' funding pots over the last two years by donors - but the money hasn't materialised"

However, though much of these funds have been directed at the education ministry, they are first deposited in Lebanon's Central Bank in US dollars, and most of the aid never reaches its intended recipients. The report urged donors to consider ways to "give money directly to schools to avoid delays and corruption."

Syrian refugees: A bargaining chip

In Shaheen's view, the decision by government to discontinue schooling for Syrian children – instead of responding to striking teachers' demands and unlocking available, designated funds - was an attempt to use Syrian children as a bargaining chip to blackmail overseas donors.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati has announced that he will meet with the Lebanese cabinet in mid February to discuss the urgent situation in the education sector. 

Live Story

However, teachers who walked out on a series of coordinated protests on 26 January don't have much faith in the government's good intentions. They say they had joined the strikes in response to being deprived of their basic rights and livelihoods, by ministers "intent on impoverishing us" – even though they were not "fans of striking or disruption." 

In a statement from Shaheen's union on 25 January, the Lebanese education sector was described as being in its "death throes". Although the right solutions could see it "born anew", the statement warned that leaving the sector to those intent on tearing it apart could see it "destroyed beyond repair" - if the government does not act. 

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

Have questions or comments? Email us at: info@alaraby.co.uk