BEIRUT: Lebanon’s energy crisis and collapsing currency are creating bleak circumstances for the start of the new academic year, according to a report from the crisis observatory at the American University of Beirut.
Students are due to return to the classroom in a few weeks time, following Monday’s announcement by Education Minister Tarek Majzoub about the “return of in-person attendance” after two years of remote learning.
Majzoub said the 2021-2022 academic year would start on Sept. 27 at the kindergarten level followed by the rest of the classes, leaving private schools the freedom to determine their own operating schedule, which normally starts early to late September.
But this year the outcry of parents unable to afford their children’s transport costs and the increased tuition fees seems greater than previously.
And the outcry from educational institutions is worse.
Father Youssef Nasr, president of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools, on Tuesday highlighted people’s daily struggle to make ends meet.
One of the main issues posing a threat to the upcoming school year is fuel, which is required for heating, lighting and transport.
Its price soared after government subsidies were lifted and due to the continued implosion of the Lebanese pound.
The dollar exchange rate on the black market was around LBP19,000 on Tuesday. The figure changes on a daily basis.
According to the crisis observatory, student transport fees are double the tuition fees. The transport sector has threatened to increase the fee for one passenger to LBP25,000 ($16.58, according to official rates).
The observatory calculated the prices of basic stationery – pens, notebooks and backpacks – at a minimum of LBP479,500 for each student, roughly 71 percent of the minimum wage.
Ghada, a 31-year-old mother who has three children at a private school in Beirut, asked: “Is it reasonable that I spend LBP1 million on each child every month to take them to school after the cost of fuel increased to LBP250,000, in the event that it is available? This means LBP3 million for transport fees from Hadath (in the suburbs of Beirut) to Msaytbeh (in Beirut), without taking into consideration the cost of food, water, electricity, generator fees, medicine and everything necessary to survive. This is insane!”
In a stationery shop in the Furn El-Chebbak neighborhood, 35-year-old Raymond, a father of two, was astonished to see the prices of notebooks, fountain pens and pencils.
He said: “The price of one notebook is LBP45,000, which equals the price of 2 kilos of yogurt, and both are Lebanese products. They are robbing us, and no one is held accountable. This is humiliation! I am very angry. My monthly salary does not exceed LBP2 million. I am an employee. I was able to send my children to a private school but, after today, I may not even be able to send them to a public school.”
Activists have highlighted the skyrocketing prices of books that are printed and published in Lebanon. The price of the Arabic language book for fifth grade pupils is LBP500,000.
The crisis observatory’s report said: “Seventy percent of families relied on private schools, especially for the primary and middle level. Following the economic crisis, transfer to public schools has become the normal recourse, with more than half the Lebanese population living in poverty and the majority of families being unable to pay the tuition fees of private schools.”
Iman Alaywan, a professor at Beirut Arab University, said she was receiving daily calls from her desperately worried students about the next academic year and asking about the university’s solutions.
“The university’s administration is inclined to continue teaching remotely, in order to alleviate the burden of diesel and internet fees,” she told Arab News. “The university will allow recording the lectures that will be given on schedule for those who have electricity and internet at home. Those who do not have these services can review the lectures at a convenient time.”