Why teachers in Lebanon are demanding change
Children and families in Lebanon are enduring multiple crises, including the aftermath of the massive explosion in Beirut’s port in August 2020, the financial system’s collapse and economic depression, political deadlock and rising instability, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just one of these crises would be enough to put strain on an already struggling education system, never mind the teachers trying their best to maintain safe and quality learning environments for 1.3 million children and adolescents.
In the past year, children have been profoundly affected by school closures, with more than 700,000 kept out of school. Unfortunately, the current school year already feels like a similar story, with Lebanon’s government estimating that there has been, on average, only 21- 25 days of teaching since October 2021.
These conditions have made for an incredibly challenging environment in which to be a teacher, where they have to respond to the complex needs of their students with very little support or resources.
Schools are only now slowly starting to open following the Christmas holidays and a strike by teachers against extremely difficult working conditions. Inadequate healthcare coverage, lack of pay and a lack of support to adapt to the changing needs of their students are just some of the reasons teachers decided the strike was necessary.
Nagham Baydoun, a teacher working in Lebanon, told us: ‘The teachers’ situation at this stage is horrendous. To date, teachers are yet to receive last year’s salaries and transportation allowances, which has led some to quit while others are forced to seek supplementary sources of income. We are demanding better salaries and working conditions due to the high cost of living in Lebanon at the moment. We are also asking for our monthly payments and for the development of a plan to increase the transportation allowance, as we need to work under better conditions.”
The problems facing teachers in Lebanon are emblematic of a wider global challenge: an utter disregard for the unique, invaluable, and demanding role that teachers play in ensuring children and adolescents’ learning and development in crisis contexts.
Too often, teachers are taken for granted, promoted as innovative and resilient, and thus it is assumed that they will be able to adapt to whatever challenges come their way. However, the pandemic has helped highlight that in many contexts teacher training very rarely includes skills on how to pivot learning during a crisis – even in countries which are at increased risk of crisis and conflict.
When teachers are not properly supported, as in the case of Lebanon, there are huge impacts that extend beyond the classroom. Children are incredibly perceptive to the well-being of their teachers, and as research illustrates, a teacher’s working conditions will always be linked to a child’s learning conditions. If the former is not considered, the latter will suffer.
In Lebanon, teachers have been standing up to make this very point. They have watched children and families suffer over the last two years as education has been an afterthought for policy makers. This is why they have been lobbying for better conditions both for themselves and their students, including subsidising the cost of fuel for schools, securing the necessary medical supplies, and providing stationery and books – all to protect children’s rights to continue their education.
The Lebanese government and the international donor community must do all they can to ensure schools stay open in Lebanon. In doing this, we must minimise the burden on teachers by fully supporting them to deliver the education that children and families deserve.
About the Authors
Kate Oliver is a senior education policy and advocacy advisor working with Save the Children UK.
Shireen Makarem is the Advocacy and Campaigns Manager for Save the Children Lebanon.
The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.