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Conditions of the Educational System in Lebanon

Holistic Think Tank

Historical and Cultural Conditions

The foundations of Lebanon’s educational system originated from the activities of Christian missionaries during the Ottoman occupation; these founded two of Lebanon’s most prestigious universities: Université Saint-Joseph (USJ) and the American University of Beirut (AUB).

During the French mandate, the French educational system was adopted to adjust the Lebanese education system. As such, French became one of the official languages and many courses in secondary education were taught in French. During the mandate, Baccalaureate exams were introduced and administered at the end of the secondary education cycle. After gaining independence in 1943, Lebanon reintroduced Arabic as an official language. The school curriculum was also modified to introduce courses that highlighted Lebanese history and culture rather than French.

After the Civil War, the Taef Agreement sought to leverage education as a medium for building a unified national identity and social cohesion among all Lebanese citizens. The 1997 curriculum, developed in line with the aspirations of the Taef agreement, is still in effect in the present day. The 1997 educational plan pointed toward building a post-war national identity – one that solidifies children’s national belonging and modernizes the curriculum’s content to be in line with the country’s labor market needs.

The plan was successful in unifying the contents of the civics textbook; however, the unification of the history textbook was unsuccessful and remains so to date. Regarding the objective to align curricular objectives, there have been no critical updates to the curriculum since 1997, despite major changes in the country’s labor market and economic development requirements.

Legal Precedent

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to universal free primary education. This declaration follows the goal to ensure the universal and effective recognition and observance of the rights anchored in it. Education – as a fundamental human right – is essential for the exercise of all other human rights; in other words, it is education that contributes to the overall empowerment, well-being, and development of children.

In the Lebanese context, the right to an education is laid out in the most prominent Lebanese legislative and regulatory texts such as The Constitution, The National Accord Document, and The National Strategy for Education in Lebanon.

The Constitution:

Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the right of education for all those who reside in the country, the Lebanese constitution does not explicitly mention the right to education for all Lebanese and non-Lebanese residents of its land.

The National Accord Document stipulates:

  • Education – least at the primary level – is available for all children regardless of their nationality or background.
  • Education can be public or private.
  • Private schools’ education should be maintained, and their state and supplies strengthened.
  • Continued reform and development of the educational system should be implemented to meet Lebanon’s economic and labor market needs.

The National Strategy for Education in Lebanon (2006) stresses:

  • The kindergarten Cycle is extended to cover all children between the ages of 3-5.
  • Basic education is compulsory up to the age of 15.
  • Equal opportunities are given for enrollment, continuation, and success for everyone, including students with special needs.
  • Good quality of education in terms of curricula, institutions, and outcomes is a must.
  • Developing human capital and a competent workforce to meet the needs of the Lebanese and global labor market.

Breakdown of the Lebanese Educational System

Lebanon’s educational system is centered around the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), which serves to regulate public sector institutions through regional bureaus within each province. These bureaus serve as a middle point between public schools and the Ministry’s headquarters in Beirut. Private schools organize themselves independently; nevertheless, their education decisions must still go through the Ministry. 

The Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) was launched under the trusteeship of the MEHE.  Its task is to draft curricula, make revisions, and prepare teaching methodologies. CERD is also responsible for conducting national education research, providing teachers with training, and preparing textbooks pertaining to the national curriculum.

The structure of the education system in Lebanon is shown in the following diagram. 

Timeline

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Figure 1. Lebanese Educational System (Source: Friedrich Naumann Stiftung)

Lebanese schools can be split into three categories: public schools, tuition-free private schools, and fee-based private schools. Public schools are financed by the MEHE, while private schools are either financed by tuition fees or supported by the Ministry through subsidies. Private schools can belong to individuals, private associations, or religious groups.

The grading system depends on the curriculum implemented in each school. In general, French-oriented private schools, as well as public schools, use a grading scale of 0 to 20, with 10 as a minimum passing grade. English-oriented schools tend to use a scale of 0 to 100, with 60 as a minimum passing grade.

The languages of instruction in the Lebanese schools are Arabic and either French or English. The subjects taught in Arabic are usually limited to Arabic language and literature, geography, civics, and history. Other subjects are usually taught in either French or English, depending on the school orientation. In public schools, Arabic dominates as the language of instruction, and French or English is taught as a subject.

The national curriculum is used in both public and private schools. Private schools that wish to use a foreign curriculum (French, English, or International Baccalaureate) must integrate both the Lebanese and foreign curricula to prepare students for the official exams which are required to be taken at the end of grade 9 and/or grade 12.

Official Examinations


Brevet
Compulsory to advance to the secondary levelArabic, English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography, civics


Lebanese Baccalaureate

Compulsory to graduate secondary school
Arabic, English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography, civics, philosophy, economics, sociology (Subjects are assessed based on the path chosen in the secondary level.)




French Baccalaureate
If exempt from the Lebanese curriculum in a French-oriented school, students take this exam instead of the Lebanese Baccalaureate.

60% of the grade is based on end of year exams and 40% is graded throughout the academic year.

Subjects covered are philosophy, language (Arabic and English), French literature, mathematics, physics, chemistry, history-geography, economics, life science, and civics (Subjects are assessed based on the path chosen in the secondary level.)


International Baccalaureate
If exempt from the Lebanese curriculum in an English-oriented school, students take this exam instead of the Lebanese Baccalaureate.Assessments in six subjects, traditionally one from each of the 6 subject groups: studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts

Table 1. Official Examinations in the Lebanese Educational System

Statistics

According to the CERD’s statistic bulletin, in the 2019-2020 school year 1,069,826 students were enrolled in schools across Lebanon – 148,912 of which attended second-shift schools.

by type of schoolby cycleby nationality
– 32% of these students were enrolled in public schools
– 12.5% in tuition-free private schools
– 52.2% in fee-based private schools
– 3.3% in UNRWA run schools
– 19.85% pre-school students
– 48.33% primary students
– 19.16% intermediate students
– 12.65% secondary students
– 85.2% Lebanese students
– 8.8% Syrian students
– 4.6% Palestinian students
– 1.4% students of other nationalities

Refugee Education in Lebanon 

For Palestinian refugee children in Lebanon, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949 to provide social services to Palestinians, including education. Palestinian students attend UNRWA-run schools in Lebanon, with a syllabus that follows the Lebanese curriculum, which allows Palestinian students to participate in the official Brevet and Baccalaureate examinations. However, the MEHE requires refugee students who wish to sit for the official exams either to have a residency permit or a stamped, valid passport.

After the influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon from post-conflict Syria, the MEHE worked on expanding the public-school system’s capacity through the establishment of second shifts in the afternoons. The majority of Syrian students attend second-shift classes at public schools, while the rest who want to attend the first shift have to wait until after Lebanese children are enrolled for available spots.

Education During Covid-19

As COVID-19 broke out in Lebanon, schools had to find alternative methods of teaching amidst the lockdown. In the first year of the pandemic, the response to Covid-19 differed between private and public schools. For private schools that catered to students who are more well-off, there was an advantage as these schools have access to resources which made it easier to disseminate information and teach through online tools. 

Private school teachers were able to prepare materials and adapt to a new online learning environment, especially since some schools had already used online tools in the past. Public schools, however, were not as successful in their transition to online learning as many students and teachers alike did not have access to the proper resources such as the technology, internet access, and electricity to be able to switch to online learning effortlessly. The public-school sector laid out a plan which included access to online tools and creating materials that were accessible online, but both students and teachers struggled to switch online as the majority did not have access to strong internet connections. Another obstacle was the availability of electronic devices to use for distance learning. Many students, especially refugee students, do not have access to tablets or personal computers, which made it more difficult to resume learning during the lockdown.

In the years after the beginning of the pandemic, the situation in Lebanon has become worse for both public and private schools as the economic crisis has worsened and electricity cuts have become more frequent. This means that the conditions have changed for students and teachers, as they do not have proper and reliable access to the Internet and electricity. It has become a challenge to continue distance learning in such arduous conditions as many households in Lebanon are experiencing daily 12+ hour power cuts.

Due to these circumstances, the Lebanese educational system continues to suffer as it has become a challenge for teachers to meet their teaching objectives and for students to receive quality education that is up to standard.

Social Dialogue Around the Educational System Issues

Although the curriculum should be revised every few years to meet the demands of the current labor market and economic development needs, there has not been any serious effort to enhance the quality of learning nor has the curriculum been updated; furthermore, there is an absence of updated professional training for teachers.

Teachers are also poorly paid – something which drains their energy and motivation for teaching and educational support. Over the years, teachers have organized themselves across both private and public schools (although more prominently those in the public school system) to aim for better pay and rights. As the economic crisis in Lebanon has deteriorated, many teachers are being let go due to the unavailability of funds; numerous others have resigned due to the low salaries.

The Civil War negatively affected the quality of Lebanon’s public school system, which continues to face significant challenges. Today, there is a dominance of private schools in comparison to public schools. Lebanese public schools do not have the same resources as private ones and are therefore underdeveloped in comparison. As a result, there are significant gaps between more economically advantaged youth and their peers who cannot afford private education.

Another issue is the limited work prospects in Lebanon (significantly exacerbated by the economic crisis), and the foreign atmosphere created in most schools encourages the migration of students to seek better opportunities. Thus, a pattern of high levels of unemployment is commonly found among young Lebanese individuals due to the inconsistency between the low quality of available opportunities and the eagerness and qualifications of the students.

Refugee students also suffer a great disadvantage when it comes to education in Lebanon. Given the limited resources allocated to their schooling, refugee students find education inaccessible and difficult to keep up with.  This situation causes them to drop out, not seek higher education, and have limited access to jobs.

Despite all these challenges, Lebanon is getting ready for change and is working towards updating curricula and incorporating technology into the educational system. Lebanon has always been a pioneer in the educational sector but given the circumstances and hardships that the country has faced since 2019, the MEHE, as well as private school administrations, is fighting against challenges that may arise and is putting all its resources and efforts towards providing the best for their students and teachers.

Researched by: dr. Colette Aoun

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