Beirut (Agenzia Fides) - With a circular letter published Monday 3 June, Maronite Archbishop of Beirut, Boulos Abdel Sater, ordered the cancellation of the third installment of the fee to be paid by students of the schools of the "La Sagesse" circuit. The measure can only give a temporary break to families affected by the measure. But it will not serve to hide the crisis which threatens to bring down a good part of the system of Maronite Catholic schools and all the institutions connected to the various ecclesial communities.
The economic condition of many Catholic schools, as already documented by Agenzia Fides, had deteriorated especially since summer 2017, after the government at the time had arranged the new "wage grids" for public sector workers, also including the school sector. Since then, the situation had already become unsustainable especially for schools operating in the less prosperous urban and rural areas of the Country. The current school year, marked first by the social blocks connected with the street protests against the government establishment and then by the closure of school buildings imposed by the pandemic crisis, has led to the collapse of an already seriously compromised situation. In some educational institutions, there have been fewer than 15 actual lessons since the start of the school year. The controversy surrounding the emergency status of the Lebanese school system re-exploded in the second half of May, when Minister of Education Tarek Al Majzoub, who on 17 May 2020 without consulting the sector of non-state schools, arranged for the end of the school year on 13 June - held in recent months with "distance" lessons - and the postponement to September of state exams for all school cycles. The Secretariat of Catholic Schools and the unions of teachers of non-state schools welcomed with disappointment the closure of the school year imposed by the government. The Secretariat also issued an open letter to President Michel Aoun, in which, among other things, the crucial role of religious congregations and ecclesial subjects in the development of education in Lebanon is highlighted, as well as the total lack of interest by public institutions in preparing adequate support measures for the emergency, in which institutions that operate essentially free of charge in the economically depressed regions and urban areas are at risk of being heavily hit by the crisis.
Mistrust and discontent grow among all the members of the national school community, and especially among parents, teachers, students, administrative and auxiliary staff of Catholic schools, which play a leading role in Lebanon, given the schools managed directly by the state are unable to guaranteeing levels beyond the claims and accusations of irresponsibility addressed to the political class. It is clear that the operators and those responsible of the Catholic schools sector have so far not developed a unified strategy to deal with the state of crisis. Some institutes - such as those headed by the Marists - continued to pay their wages in full to their employees, while others halved the salaries of their teaching and non-teaching staff.
Recently the Jesuit, Charbel Batour, rector of the Notre-Dame de Jamhour college, during a television program, recognized among other things that all those involved in the emergency were unable to manage the situation "in a human and wise way". "Now", remarked Father Charbel, "every sector considers itself a victim". In recent months, the Notre Dame de Jamhour College had resorted to the extreme measure of sending letters and requests for support to its former pupils of Lebanese schools who now live in comfort in America, in Europe or in the Gulf countries. But the worsening of the situation makes it increasingly evident that even the Lebanese Catholic educational institutions are not on the same boat, and it seems increasingly urgent to make the budgets transparent and to inaugurate forms of collaboration between schools that enjoy good health from a financial point of view and those that carry out their educational work even among the economically weaker sectors of the population. (PR/GV) (Agenzia Fides, 5/6/2020)