Lebanon: Education minister passes all students in bid to undermine the UCC

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Education Minister Elias Bou Saab being escorted by security during a teacher's protest demanding higher wages. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Hadeel Farfour

Published Friday, August 8, 2014

Will fireworks light up the sky once again this year as students celebrate the results of their official exams? Usually, only a student who passes the exam gets to practice this celebratory “ritual.” Yet this year, a decision was made to give certificates to all candidates who have applied to the exams, which does not only give all students an equal chance to celebrate, but also depicts them as having exerted the same amount of effort in studying.

“Certificates, contrary to what the name would suggest, do not actually certify anything,” said Samira, 37, who prefers to go by Om Ahmed.

She has been looking forward to experience the feeling of waiting anxiously for the announcement of her son Ahmed’s results in the official exams.

“I have been waiting for a long time to hear his number on the radio or to send my husband to the internet café to get the results, but now it has lost its value,” Om Ahmed sighed.

Although she realizes that the certificate would allow her son, a candidate for the high school diploma - General Sciences’ branch, to enroll in a university, she does not consider this method “honorable.”

Maybe she has this feeling because she was sure that her son would pass the exam since he is, according to her, a good student.

“This time, they just gave it away, I wanted him to pass without the courtesy of anyone,” she said.

Ahmed is not the only one upset about the decision to simply give out certificates. Rima, a candidate for the Economy and Society degree, believes that this piece of paper belittles all the efforts she has made to get the diploma.

Although this piece of “paper,” as she calls it, will grant her the same opportunity to enroll at a college, just like a regular diploma – the main reason behind Education Minister Elias Bou Saab’s decision to give passing certificate to all students – this young woman still refuses to recognize the certificate as “a diploma.”

She explained that there are many differences between a paper that holds grades given to a student by teachers who determine one’s level, and a piece of paper that “anyone” can have.

“I do not want to be anyone,” a distraught Rima said.

According to Nemer Freiha, former chief of the Education Center for Research and Development, giving out certificates is a blow to the education sector that is already suffering from “a hundred other defects,” cautioning that this step may finish the sector off.

Freiha stressed that the importance of the official diploma is linked to a series of complementary procedures that include holding the exams and grading them, and that it loses all its importance if these procedures are not complementary and integral.

Some parents were more understanding of the decision taken by the education minister. For them, it was the lesser of two evils. They preferred that their children get certificates “rather than losing a year of their lives.”

Freiha, however, warned of an unhealthy approach toward education and the learning process in general within a society that cares more about the diploma than the way in which it was obtained or even its content.

He also argued that an academic like Abu Saab should not have taken such a decision, adding that this matter falls upon all politicians, who should shoulder their responsibilities.

Some other parents did not give much consideration to the decision, seeing it as an expected step by such a regime.

Kamel, 40, said “This blow to education that many are warning of is almost natural under this corrupt economic and political regime which is intent on ruining social and educational values in this country.”

He stressed that he would not have had any confidence in the diploma even if the exams were to be graded, because he simply does not believe in the current school curriculum that is being fed to his son, Khaled, a student in the Life Sciences branch.

For him, the official diploma is merely a document that would allow his son to continue his studies abroad, even though many education experts have already warned that the certificates may “strip the official diploma of its value in foreign countries.”

Many students who were planning to continue their studies abroad have lost their scholarships due to the delay in announcing the results, while others are worried that foreign universities would not take their certificates seriously.

Mohammed Natout, a professor in the Education faculty at the Lebanese American University reassured that these certificates will not have much impact, because every university has its own set of rules regarding enrollment, like imposing special entrance exams.

He did, however, point out that foreign embassies in Lebanon are likely to take the certificates issue into consideration, which may negatively affect the students.

The issue of high school diplomas is not limited to those directly involved in the debacle – rather, middle school students applying for the Brevet (the official high school entrance exam) are also chiming in.

Sara rejects all the talk depicting the certificates as only involving high school students.

“I am also a candidate for an official diploma,” she said, “it is true that I am not going to college, but I am going to high school.” She went on to add that many of her colleagues do not deserve to move on to high school.

However, 14-year-old Salim was all smiles. “I am going to set off fireworks in spite of everyone,” he said proudly. He was betting on the fact that there will be no grading and that he will get a certificate, so “he did not open a book.”

He spoke pompously about his so-called “analysis” of the situation: “if the school year started with strikes, sometimes they said that the exams will be held and other times that they will not, how would you expect it to end?”

He did not hide the fact that he was happy with the certificate because now he is on equal footing with his colleague Amira, whom he described as an “annoying nerd,” who used to consider him “stupid.”

“It turned out that I am smarter than her,” he smirked.

Meanwhile, a lot of parents seem convinced that the certificates were basically the minister’s “only” option, especially since they do not believe that the wage scale can be ratified any time soon under the current circumstances.

Many parents, who believed the intimidation campaign that warned of price hikes, do not want the wage scale to be ratified at all, while others do not believe that that the current political class has the citizens’ best interest in mind, “why would they then care about the education sector?”

It is no secret that putting all students on equal footing is unfair. This goes beyond honor students being upset and the lazy ones rejoicing; it is in fact a non-educational procedure that strips the official diploma of whatever value it still possesses.

For Freiha, the parents should be held responsible for not exerting enough pressure on officials to force the authority to withdraw its decision to strike at the union’s mobilization by targeting the education sector.

A student movement

The committee of official exams students will today hold a press conference at the headquarters of the Lebanese Democratic Youth Union in the neighborhood of Mar Elias [in Beirut], at 3 pm to explain their position about the certificates.

In Sidon, a number of students distributed a statement urging Education Minister Elias Bou Saab not to give them certificates, and to deploy all efforts for the teachers to obtain their rights so they would perform their duties and grade the exams and issue the results.

The students called upon the Union Coordination Committee to take the current situation in Lebanon into consideration, urging them to grade the exams, in order to maintain the standards of the official diploma.

“We support the demands of our teachers, they are our role models, and we learned from them to make sacrifices for the sake of others,” the statement said.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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