December 18, 2019 / 3:41 PM / a month ago

Pressure on Lebanon's schools as tough times force children into state system

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s economic crisis is forcing families to pull tens of thousands of children out of the private schools that educate most pupils in the country, and into a long-neglected state education system that is already struggling to cope.

Unlike in many countries where private schools are often mainly for the wealthy, Lebanon relies on them to educate two thirds of pupils, with working class families scrimping to afford hundreds of dollars a month in fees.

Those who cannot afford it end up in an under-funded state system that educates 300,000 Lebanese pupils and has put on a second shift in recent years for 200,000 Syrian refugees.

With the worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war having struck this year, 36,000 extra pupils have moved from private school into the state system, Education Minister Akram Chehayeb told Reuters. He expects still more children to follow, with no additional funds or staff to teach them.

“The pressure will increase on public schools,” he said. “Due to the 2019 budget, we can’t hire new teachers, while 1,400 retire every year.”

Eid Ramadan, a hairstylist, struggled to find more than $6,000 a year in total for private school for his two sons. This year he was forced to pull his younger son out.

“My kids are thankfully smart and understanding,” he said. “They know we were doing the impossible to keep them (in private school). But we’ve reached a point where we couldn’t. We’ve hit a brick wall.”

The country’s long-brewing economic troubles have spiraled into a financial crisis since October, when protests erupted against the ruling elite. Businesses have closed, workers have been laid off and wages cut. Banks are restricting access to cash and the Lebanese pound has slumped.

“The majority of the people can no longer pay thousands of dollars for tuition every year,” said Ramadan.

Salwa Hemadeh moved her 14-year-old daughter into a state school this year, having previously moved her three sons out of private education as the economy worsened and her husband’s job as a plasterer brought in less income.

“She didn’t adapt well to the new school because it was so big and there were so many students. But we laid out the truth: either you get your education at this public school or you get no education,” she said.

Editing by Tom Perry

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