“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today” (Malcolm X). Learning should be a source of happiness to a child who is building their future. Schools were found to be one of the most important organizations that require total attention and support from the government. Schools should provide for their students’ needs, not only by teaching the curriculum they are responsible for, but also by contributing to building their students’ personalities: they have to encourage both emotional and academic achievements. Our paper will discuss the functioning of public schools in Lebanon and what they provide to their students on all levels. We will compare this educational system to the public schools in the United States of America, and in particular in the Princeton district, to see what they provide to their community and students. Our purpose is to highlight the weak points of public schools in Lebanon and how we can improve them by looking at the way public schools in Princeton adopt a very motivational method to encourage their students to study and learn in order to achieve their goals. We want to find solutions to help teachers and students face the crisis in Lebanon. We conducted two interviews to identify the circumstances and characteristics of the teaching methods in Lebanon, in terms of educational excellence, morals, and values. The first one was with a school principal and the second with four teachers who teach different subjects and different age levels. The secondary source we used is an article by Rima Bahous, Fadi Nicholas Nassar, and Makram Ouaiss in The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies review that deals with the educational situation in public schools, “On the Brink: The Critical State of Lebanon’s Education System,” from March 09, 2022.
Princeton Public Schools: An Ideal Education System
Princeton Public Schools is considered among the best in New Jersey and the United States. Its mission is to prepare all students to live joyful and purposeful lives. Its curriculum is regularly reviewed to ensure students meet the highest academic standards. Each child is known, and joy and purpose are merged into their approach to learning. It emphasizes strengthening students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, research, technology, collaboration, cultural literacy, leadership, and wellness abilities.
This school’s academics menu includes arts, mathematics, gifted and talented enrichment, health and physical education, counseling, and special education. The arts encourage creativity and give people avenues for expression that goes beyond language. The Mathematics Department values mathematical reasoning in the classroom, developing, critiquing, and revising arguments, and working together to position students as capable “doers” of mathematics. Gifted and talented enrichment allows students to demonstrate and develop exceptional abilities in culturally valued areas. Health and physical education teaches students about nutrition, health, and wellness, emphasizing teamwork, good sportsmanship, abilities, and tactics. School counseling helps students by collaborating with classroom teachers, support personnel, professional personnel, parents, and community partners. Finally, specialized programs are offered to students with disabilities. For students with Autism, Language and Learning Disabilities (LLD), and Multiple Disabilities (MD), self-contained classrooms, resource centers, and in-class support services are available.
The Lebanese Education System We Would Like to Reform
Teachers in Lebanese Public Schools spend their time lecturing, assigning homework, reading assignments, and correcting exercises completed in the classroom. Students are generally passive participants in the learning process. They quietly listen to their teacher, rarely question what is presented, and copy material dictated by the teacher, who relies heavily on textbooks for instruction. Oral recitation is used to grade students. Memorization of facts and events is heavily emphasized in Lebanese public schools. The lack of adequate educational facilities and well-trained professionals has hampered the implementation of new ideas and methods.
Arabic language and literature, history, geography, and civics have been the only subjects taught in Arabic. Depending on the school’s orientation or affiliation, since public schools in Lebanon teach either English or French language as basic material besides the Arabic language, all other subjects have been taught in either French or English. Lebanese public schools give direct instructions from the Lebanon Educational System: they focus solely on academic achievement and do not consider students’ emotional needs. They are strict with the educational curriculum and do not allow their students to grow socially, emotionally, or physically. Apart from the curriculum, the schools offer no other activities for their students to discover what their needs are.
Teaching in Lebanon according to the National Curriculum
We based our interview with the public-school principal on four main questions: 1) about the type of curriculum they used in his school (if it was provided by the ministry of education or not, and why); 2) about the methods used to encourage the students to achieve their personal goals; 3) about the ways that the teachers support the students emotionally; 4) and finally about the type of technology that the school implemented, its advantages, and its impacts on the education profession. We could not record this interview because the principal is a government employee and it is illegal for him to make an interview without a consent letter from the government. The principal will thus remain anonymous in our story. We interviewed him over the phone and took notes of our discussion.
The principal’s school follows the national curriculum established by the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) or CRDP in the French Lebanese Curriculum. It is a public institution directly linked to the Minister of Education and Higher Education. The principal ensured that the school’s instructors deliver positive and useful feedback to motivate pupils, which they do by improving necessary abilities and keeping a communicative and collaborative classroom environment. When it came to the emotional topic, the principal pushed on the idea that students are full beings, not parts and pieces sitting in classes. The teachers of his school are concerned with the students’ emotional well-being and demonstrate empathy and tolerance. They also design plans that are tailored to the individual needs of each student.
We ended the interview with key questions about the technology utilized in his school, as technology provides instructors with a variety of tools to assist students in developing a deeper understanding of the teaching material. The principal said that “different types of technology-based instructional materials are used in classes to teach varied subject matters; they range from using LCD projectors, overhead projectors, spreadsheets, to more interactive ones such as Teams, Google classroom, and Zoom.” Thus, we conclude that technology is a must for the school’s development and efficiency in the teaching process.
Teaching in Lebanon in times of crisis
We then interviewed four teachers in a public school. We conducted it face-to-face in the teacher’s room in the school. We quickly understood that they had agreed to be interviewed because they wanted to talk and share with us the catastrophic conditions they are living in. We had prepared the same set of questions we had asked the principal, but instead of answering them exactly, they shared with us the miserable situation that they are facing in Lebanon and how they are struggling to survive. However, we could not record this interview either because the teachers refused to mention their names or the school name because they are governmental employees. They would have needed ministerial approval to agree to this interview, and they would have not been able to talk about everything. Sometimes the ministry refuses this kind of request. This school clearly made us a favor by letting us interview the teachers.
These teachers also use the curriculum provided by the CRDP. Before the revolution and the crisis that is striking Lebanon, the CRDP aimed at formulating educational policies, improving the quality of education, and keeping abreast with scientific progress, as well as technological and cultural development worldwide. Before the revolution, the teachers also used to use technological methods in their curriculum. They used smart boards or head projectors to teach their students and explain the lesson with different resources. They let students make research and do their own presentations to give them self-confidence because when students work on their own projects, they never forget what they did and they learn from their own experiences. But all these technological tools cannot be used anymore because of the lack of electricity.
So far, the teachers told us they have tried to support their students emotionally by listening to their problems and fixing them in their own way because the school does not provide them with social guides to deal with such cases. The students, as well as the teachers, are suffering nowadays from the economic crisis. These circumstances are affecting the teachers as professionals and as human beings. Poverty places more pressure on both students and teachers. It negatively affects the student’s development. Students living in such a situation have to face these problems and find solutions on their own in order to achieve success. They have no resources that help them study because of the difficulty to access an internet connection: most families have access to electric power for only one or two hours a day, thus students are studying by candlelight and cannot do research. One teacher told us that this winter was so cold, the weather was freezing, and they were forced to close the school because they had no resources to fire the heater and the students could not study in such conditions. Another teacher told us that once, she witnessed, as she was watching students on the lunch break, one student from grade two who was sitting on the corner without eating anything. She asked him why and he answered that he and his sister took turns having lunch: one day he brings a sandwich, and the next day his sister does. It turned out their parents could not offer them two sandwiches on the same day. What a catastrophic situation!
Lebanese students are not the only ones who suffer from the economic crisis. One of the teachers we interviewed (teacher 1) also told us about the terrible impact inflation has on the teachers’ salaries. Before the crisis, a teacher’s basic salary was about 1000$ per month. Nowadays, it is about the equivalent of 100$ or below, depending on the dollar rate. The teacher complained, “how can we live or continue to provide for our families in such conditions?“ Another teacher (teacher 2) told me that she has a fifteen-year-old female student who had been forced by her family to quit school in order to get married because they cannot handle raising her anymore. Teacher 3 told us that one day, as she was lecturing about healthy food, she saw the nutritional deprivation in her students’ eyes and started to cry in front of them. She said, “I cannot handle this situation anymore. My job is to help my students but it is out of my control.” And she left the room. Teacher 4 pursued by telling us, “We as teachers are suffering also because our salary is not enough to fill our cars with fuel to come to school. We are teaching because of our moral ethics not for business wise, our students can’t pay for their future because of our politicians.”
We came to this school to interview the teachers about their curriculum, teaching methods, and the use of technology in the classroom, but we came out of this experience with many other questions. We could not conclude any solution to this catastrophic problem.
A Cross-Border Situation: A Global Perspective
In their recent article on the state of the Lebanese education system, Rima Bahous, Fadi Nicholas Nassar, and Makram Ouaiss compared the situation between private schools and public schools. While private schools persevere under difficult conditions, public schools are on the verge of collapse. As a result of the economic crisis, many students moved from private schools to public schools, which increased pressure on public schools, not to mention that public resources allocated to education in Lebanon are limited.
Over the years, the country has had to deal with a number of significant challenges, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, that have added pressure on an already fragile education sector. In 2019, “No Lost Generation” estimated that 365,000 Syrian refugee children were enrolled in Lebanese schools. As a result of this prolonged crisis and extreme hardship, many teachers emigrated abroad. Teachers who remain in Lebanon often have to take on extra responsibilities for providing all pupils with a high-quality education in Lebanon.
USAID is trying to support public schools by implementing a program called Qitabi (Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement), a “Four-Week Recovery Program in Schools” to help the teachers to update their teaching methods. The Qitabi program aims to improve the reading, writing, and social-emotional learning skills of more than 300,00 students at public primary schools in Lebanon, by doing workshops for teachers. However, the Lebanese government must urgently give the education sector top priority in order to save what is left. To do this, it must make sure that our teachers can conduct their lessons in a dignified manner, that students do not have to choose between their education and their families’ economic survival, and that schools and families can work together to provide children with the necessities of life.
Our research paper starts with specific questions but it ends on another track, which takes us to the crisis that is happening in Lebanon and how teachers and students are facing this tragic situation. Sadly the economic crisis is pushing children not to go back to school because their families cannot afford to send them to school. This leads to lower rates of literacy. The longer the crisis will last in Lebanon, the more the students will fall behind. Lebanese schools cannot offer what Princeton Public Schools offer their students, such as theaters or any technological resources to support their students emotionally. Because they are facing such a historical economic crisis, they have nothing to improve their schools. So we wanted to start with an international comparison and then we realized that this international comparison is not even standing because of this crisis. For us, Princeton Public Schools remains the idol that our schools should follow. We still dream that one day, the Lebanese society could invest in education to offer this kind of standard to kids in public schools.
“ We won’t let poverty kill educational access and opportunities. We’ll kill poverty through education” Sharad Sagar #EarthChanger.