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Future of Lebanon’s Catholic schools at risk under new salary rules

Schools have raised tuition to cover part of the raises. Many families, unable to afford the increase, have reluctantly switched to public education for their children.

Consequently, because of the law, more than 500 Catholic school teachers have lost their jobs.

“The law fragilizes the system” of private education, Father Batour explained. “Instead of putting the money in the right place to invest and modernize education, we are now compelled to give this money in salaries. So the whole system of private education is put into question. This law weakened the whole system.”

While there have not yet been a significant number of schools that have closed because of the crisis, Father Batour said, “the question is about the future.” He cited a Catholic school in southern Lebanon that dates to the 19th century that had to shut its doors.

Especially at risk are smaller Catholic schools in villages.

The law comes against a continued downward spiral of the Lebanese economy exacerbated by the outbreak of conflict in neighboring Syria in 2011 and the arrival of more than 1 million refugees, equal to one-fourth of Lebanon’s population.

Speaking at the annual colloquium of Catholic schools Sept. 4, Cardinal Rai said it is “the duty of the state to help parents of students who have chosen private schools, in a sociopolitical situation in which the economic crisis and rising unemployment rates also push many middle-class families toward poverty.”

Cardinal Rai said the government should “consider private school as part of the public interest,” with “the duty to subsidize it so that it can remain available to all.”

Catholic schools in Lebanon are known for educating not only Christians, but Muslims as well. Christians account for approximately 40 percent of Lebanon’s resident population.

“We have a tradition of collaboration, or openness between the two communities [Muslim and Christian] through the schools,” Father Batour said.

The Jesuit said that in the Bekaa Valley, for example, there are three Jesuit schools, one of which 84 percent of the students are Muslim.

“We have a mission: a spiritual mission, a human mission, and a social mission,” Maronite Father Boutros Azar, secretary general of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools, told CNS of the role of Catholic schools in Lebanon.

“Our Catholic schools are like a bridge between Eastern and Western civilization. The way we teach: to be open to other cultures and religions. We teach about freedom,” Father Azar said.

“It’s foggy,” Father Azar said of the future of Lebanon’s Catholic schools. “But we try to look forward with hope that the light of Catholic schools won’t be extinguished.”

Chaer agreed that the schools “have some tough choices to make,” but argued that “the burden of these choices should not be borne by the teachers.”

“Financial planning in any organization is the job of the administration,” she said.

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