Can CERD Regain its Intellectual and Academic Role in Lebanon?

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Children attend the National Orthodox School in Tripoli, Lebanon. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Faten Elhajj

Published Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Consultations aimed at appointing a new president for the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) are being held in confidentiality and covertness. Lebanese Education Minister Elias Abou Saab is trying to include the name of the CERD president and board members under the same designation decree, although the appointment is based on a ministerial decree. In any case, education professionals hope for a new beginning, free from the obstacles, corruption and clientelism that previously characterized affairs in the center.

Since the end of CERD President Layla Fayyad’s term in late 2014, educators have been waiting for Education Minister Elias Abou Saab to fill this void in Lebanon’s education system. Sources reveal that Abou Saab had to disregard many voices attempting to change his mind, when he made the final decision not to renew the mandate of the former president, who headed the the CERD for 13 years.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Abou Saab denied having “any negative attitude toward Fayyad,” adding that “she did not go far away” and was transferred to the minister’s office, where she was assigned advisory tasks on CERD matters, “due to her wide expertise in the field.” The education minister confirmed that he was trying to inject some new blood into the CERD. He plans to name a new president and assemble a board of experts — a project that has been hindered for years — to reinvigorate the Center.

Education professionals welcomed the decision, hoping that it would be a serious opportunity for the CERD to regain its authority and role, thus ending a rather “dark” phase in its history.

Nemr Frayha, a former CERD president, stated that former President Fayyad was not the only one responsible for the administrative and financial corruption in the center. He believes that “the decision to end her term was long overdue, given that former ministers had [their own] small interests satisfied during her mandate. Therefore, she remained in her position, despite the colossal waste of public money, in exchange for employing those affiliated with the ministers and others who took interest in the center.” According to Frayha, “if education was a cornerstone in the progress of any society, it would be a crime for an official to overlook violations of this kind.”

The vacuum currently experienced by the CERD is not new. “The center has been suffering from an intellectual and academic vacuum for 13 years, a vacuum created by its former president,” Frayha said. “People became content with financial benefits and bribes, at the expense of the quality and efficiency of educational projects. They even spent the loan granted by the World Bank to upgrade education in Lebanon, yet no teacher or educational stakeholder saw any improvement, not even by one percent.”

Frayha listed many examples of what he considered corruption and waste that characterized the center in the past. As a Lebanese citizen, and in the name of all taxpayers, he demanded that the judicial authority, or the “transparent” authority, prosecute the signatories of the decree that enabled the destruction of over 120,000 school books, claiming that a new edition had been published.

“People involved in this matter must pay for these books with their own money,” he added, explaining that “what they called a new revised version, was no different from previous editions, except for the signature of Layla Fayyad in the preface, which she had no right to put there, as she had not supervised the writing or publishing of any of those books.” According to Frayha, this is “intellectual property theft.”

Furthermore, he made accusations related to the falsification of almost 123 money transfers, pointing out that “people responsible for these acts were not subject to any legal action, and the file was not released.”

Corruption is not the only element that led to the CERD crisis. Educators believe that the administration of this major national organization failed to accomplish its three goals: setting and updating curriculums, preparing and training educators, and conducting educational surveys and studies. According to them, the CERD was transformed from a research center in charge of building an educational policy, and supervising its implementation and progress, into a place reserved for employees and customers, which resulted in severing ties with the real stakeholders.

According to CERD sources, the best example in their regard is “the insistence on signing contracts with consultants who work on the ninth floor of the CERD building in Dekwaneh.” Former President Fayyad even renewed their terms for six months on her last day.” The sources explained that “these people work according to advisory contracts and are highly paid,” adding that “they are present in all committees and projects, at the expense of project experts. Instead of all of the above, financial independence ought to stimulate the development of the Center, and the advancement of educational curriculums and researches, as well as the preparation and training office.”

The same sources pointed out the negative outcomes resulting from the establishment of parallel institutions funded by the World Bank. These units accept donations and projects with no coordination whatsoever, which led to an enormous waste of public money.

They also underlined the recent “patching up” method used in reviewing curriculums. “Four years’ work that cost the CERD billions of Lebanese pounds was ruined. Math, Arabic, French, English and activities books for first and second graders were destroyed for failing to measure up to international standards, knowing that they were being used on probation in 48 schools around Lebanon and teachers were being trained to use them.”

What should we expect from the new CERD president?

According to an educational expert who worked with the center for over 40 years, in order to achieve success, the next president must believe in the continuity of the CERD and in the importance of its role in upgrading education in Lebanon. The primary objective of the new president must be to form an board of experts, a body that is currently absent, which will function as a board of directors, the expert confirmed. CERD laws and regulations stipulate that the board must include four PhD-holders, and be headed by the CERD President.

Fayyad performed the role of the board herself, knowing that it contained essential prerogatives, such as discussing and approving the draft budget; setting the annual work plan, internal regulations and CERD-related bodies; contracting candidates to work in various activities; terminating and renewing contracts when needed; nominating CERD representatives in general planning committees; agreeing to take part in conferences; and approving educational and development projects. The board of experts is also entitled to an opinion, and may amend laws and regulations, and decide which school books, publications and educational methods are used in education.

A former experts board member called for filling empty positions by naming an administrative director and assigning the heads of academic departments. Once the technical administrative structure is complete, the CERD must strive to launch a study on the situation of educators at all academic levels, and on how they are distributed. A delineation must then be established between standard work hours and overtime hours. The offices of educators and the Faculty of Education should be reopened, and the CERD structure should be upgraded in keeping with its experience, since its establishment in 1971 until today, especially in terms of computer technology and modern education techniques.
According to the same expert, the projects and educational research unit must be reactivated to look into projects offered by international organizations, in order to prevent the usual redundancies.

For her part, an expert in a topic offered at CERD, highlighted the importance of having a president that is aware of educational problems, and that is capable of coming up with solutions and providing counsel, ideas and suggestions to the education minister. She believes that the new president should stress educational concerns, and strive to bring back scientific and educational experts, and qualified personnel, that previously fled the center, refusing “to participate in its destruction.”

The same expert added that CERD cannot continue to rely on an administrative body mainly comprised of retired members (less than 18 employees) and secretaries, but needs real experts in educational administration to perform various roles, such as activating the role of educators; managing, adjusting, and upgrading training mechanisms; overseeing the authoring of school books and research projects; and managing the joint projects with international organizations.

Continuing training is not merely related to the attendance of teachers at training sessions, but is “one of the primary national tools for change and social and educational reform in this country.”

The CERD president must speak at least two languages in order to easily negotiate with donors from international organizations such as UNESCO, the World Bank, UNICEF, USAID, and the Agency for French Teaching Abroad. They must use funding for national educational projects and plans, without using education to serve other projects and priorities. Even though research related to history books are exclusive to political parties, the president of the center may still convey their point of view and suggestions in this regard.

The CERD expert also suggested an improvement based on the institutionalization of projects related to ongoing educational development. A careful and impartial look at the circumstances in which CERD was established, and in the years since 1975, is enough evidence to prove that it is impossible to build a country without an educational strategy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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