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    Prioritizing Teaching Benefits Everyone

    Striking public-sector teachers in Lebanon are demanding that the Hariri-led government improve their pay and general work conditions. While this situation made the headlines in local newspapers this week, it’s actually similar to many news items from the mid-1990s.

    It doesn’t matter who has been in charge of Lebanon’s government, or Education Ministry, since the Civil War ended. The education sector is one of those areas in which official Lebanon just goes through the motions, talking big about making its mark in the region, while doing little to achieve this lofty goal.

    One pillar of this distinction is education. The quality of education depends on many things, but the standard of teachers is near the top of list. Classroom size and physical infrastructure are also important, but let’s focus on teachers, since they were in the news this week.

    It quickly becomes apparent that the issue isn’t just about pay. Starting salaries don’t have to be exorbitantly high, but when a teacher puts in 20-30 years of service, getting rewarded for good performance as time goes by is critically important.

    Our teachers are also demanding recognition and respect from the government. Public-sector teachers, for example, are tired of achieving better results, based on student examinations, than the private sector. And yet, we collectively look askance at public education. The teaching profession’s various unions aren’t ideal; they’re not capable of promoting wide-scale professional development, and state officials might dismiss them as a waste of time.

    But when an Education Ministry official reminded us earlier this month that only 23 percent of our teachers have a baccalaureate degree, and that our education-related legislation and regulations in most case date from the late 1950s – in 2010 – we realize the problem isn’t lazy teachers or passive unions.

    Back in the good old days, Lebanon gained recognition as an exporter of teachers, but today’s general situation is in decline. Teachers might put in 60-hour weeks, for less than adequate pay, and might end up doing even more “extra” work. On weekdays, from roughly 8 am to 3 pm, they’re in charge of interacting with one-quarter of our population.

    If our politicians were really up to par, they would assign an even higher priority to education than our famous national defense strategy.

    Instead of listing all the people, and policy areas, and slogans that are supposed to be “above” all other considerations, why don’t we try something different? How about undertaking a soft revolution, by putting the enhancement of our teaching profession and educational system above all other considerations? This will benefit all sides: individuals, families, the wider society, our economy and our polity. It’s long overdue.

    The Daily Star
    25.03.2010

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