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History & Background

Al-Jumhuriyah al-Lubnaniyah (the Republic of Lebanon) is a very small Arab country (slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut). It is predominantly a mountainous terrain of great scenic beauty, situated in western Asia on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Syria to the east and north, by Israel to the south, and by the Mediterranean Sea to the west. As a country, Lebanon was created by accident rather than by design by virtue of becoming a French zone of influence after World War I. Thus, these borders were established during the French Mandate in 1918.

Culturally, economically, and geographically, Lebanon is considered an important part of the Arab world and the Middle East. It is the birthplace of the alphabet and has always played the role of cultural junction between East and West beginning with the Roman School of Law of Berytus or old Beirut, up to the American and French schools and universities in 1820 and beyond. Lebanon enjoyed a privileged status in the Ottoman Empire and thus managed to import European trends to the Middle East. For instance, the printing press was imported to Lebanon in 1702 and the production of books printed in Arabic started in the beginning of the nineteenth century promoting an Arab identity in the midst of a collapsing Ottoman Empire. Therefore, Lebanon, which represents one one-fortieth of the total area of Arabia, produced 70 percent of Arabic publications.

Arabic is the official language, but Armenian, English, and French are widely spoken and taught in schools. Education is free at government schools and universities, and students pay at private schools; Lebanon is said to have the best private school system in the entire Middle East. French and American styles of education are readily available and competing with each other in the country. Lebanon's strong and diverse educational opportunities assured the nation one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle East (75-80 percent). Also prior to the civil war (1975 to 1990), Lebanon had the highest standard of living in the Middle East.

The population of Lebanon is difficult to estimate since no official census has been conducted after Lebanon's independence in 1943, and many people also left the country during the 1975 to 1990 civil war. The 1996 estimate was that there were about 3.6 million Lebanese living in the country, and more than 3.0 million living abroad. Main cities include Beirut (capital city), Tripoli, Sidon, Zahle, and Tyre. The population growth rate is about 3.4 percent. The Lebanese population is very diverse and contains a mosaic of religions and ethnic groups. Seventeen of these groups are recognized by law and are represented in the parliament with proportional power sharing in the government. Christian sects include Maronites, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenian Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Protestants, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Nestorians, Protestants, and Evangelicals. Moslems include Shiites, Sunnites, Alawites, and Druzes. There is also a small Jewish community.

The territory known today as Lebanon witnessed many occupants and invaders throughout history, starting with the Phoenicians as long as 5,000 years ago, Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptians, Hittites, Assryans, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantinians, Muslim Arabs, European Crusaders, Seljuk Turks, Ottomans, and French. Phoenicians were the most important Semitic migrants from Canaan who founded a maritime civilization that dominated the Mediterranean region with regard to trading in general, especially the transmission of cultural artifacts for about 2,000 years (2700 to 450 B.C.).

Another important point in Lebanon's history concerns the Romans and Byzantinians who converted many people to Christianity and left their marks in great castles around the country. After this, the Islamic invasion of Lebanon took place in the seventh century, while the Crusaders followed in the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. It was not until 1516 when Lebanon came under the Ottoman Empire rule, which remained until the end of World War I. At the beginning, the French authority ruled only some districts, and during that initial period, important political, social, educational, and economic reforms took place. For example, the new educational system encouraged the use of the Arabic language as a prime cultural resource. Arabic nationalism was fed by the recent trend of education in Arabic, which had caused the Arabs to demand independence from the Ottoman rule. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was completely destroyed and the control of Lebanon as a whole nation fell into the hands of the French authorities in the form of a mandate approved by the League of Nations. During the French domination period, a very effective health, education, and judiciary system was established.

In 1926, Lebanon was declared a republic, and a Lebanese constitution was written under the supervision of the French and a local Lebanese committee. However, foreign control of the country did not end with this declaration. Thus, Lebanon gained its independence from the French authorities on November 22, 1943, and soon became the commercial and financial center of the Middle East, as well as a major banking and trade center between the Eastern and Western worlds because of its strategic location and west-leaning stand. Many multinational companies established their Middle Eastern headquarters in Beirut and the Lebanese people witnessed their best and most prosperous days until the mid-1970s.

Until the mid-1970s, the power was mainly in the hands of the Christian half of Lebanon. The other half, mainly Muslim citizens, was excluded from real power. The escalating tensions in various parts of the Middle East, dislocated Palestinians, and the Suez crisis caused the national unity in Lebanon to break apart. Since then the power struggle between various religious and political groups (mainly Christians and Muslims) took a new turn, and Syrian as well as Israeli involvement added to the worsening Lebanese situation.

The 1958 civil war or Muslim rebellion started as a result of Lebanon's refusal to join the union that was formed between Syria and Egypt. It took the intervention of U.S. forces to calm all parties in the conflict. Also, the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 added fuel to the overall situation in Lebanon, which did not enter the conflict, and the 1975-1990 civil war tore the nation apart and destroyed the economy. The Lebanese pound, which used to equal about US$3.00 in 1980, collapsed in 1984. In February 2001, US$1.00 equaled 1,507 Lebanese pounds. Human casualties of the latest civil war and the two Israeli invasions were extremely high (more than 100,000 people). In addition, that civil war jeopardized the entire educational system because of massive destruction of school buildings, as well as other facilities, and the closure of schools for long periods of times, sometimes for months.

Because of the Lebanese social structure, which consists of many different ethnic and religious minorities, the Lebanese people conducted their communal affairs in accordance with their own religious, cultural, and legal traditions under the Ottoman Empire. Education was one of those affairs assumed by each minority (especially religious minorities). Towards the end of the eighteenth century, a western missionary activity took place in Lebanon. American, British, Danish, French, German, Italian, and Russian missionaries came to Lebanon and opened schools and universities to further their religious goals. Since the Ottoman rulers did not play a major role in education and provided only some training of state bureaucrats, private schooling flourished and became entrenched in the Lebanese educational system and social structure.

The French Jesuits were the first to establish two schools in 1770, followed by the first national school of Ain Waraqa in 1782. Then in 1830 the American Protestant missionaries opened the American School for Girls and started to compete with the French Jesuits. Al-Makassid Institution was established in 1877 as a charitable association providing for the education of Muslim children. In 1866, the American missionaries established the Syrian Protestant College, which is known today as the American University of Beirut (AUB). This led the French Jesuits to open the Saint Joseph University (SJU) in 1875. By the end of the nineteenth century hundreds of various missionary private schools opened, which laid the foundation of primary and secondary education in the country. Prior to the French mandate, secondary education was provided by private schools only.

After placing Lebanon under the French mandate, the League of Nations along with the mandatory authorities approved a constitution for the nation that provided for the freedom and encouragement of public education. Thus, the Lebanese government adopted a policy designed to lay the foundation for a public system of education that was similar to the French system in many respects. Based on that policy, the Lebanese government took the following specific measures: 1) Primary and higher primary schools were established in big cities and towns. 2) Two training centers were established to prepare primary school teachers. 3) A primary education program, which was similar to the French system, was introduced. The basic difference between the two systems was that, in Lebanon, half of the curriculum was taught in Arabic and the other half in French. 4) All private and public schools were required to teach French as a primary foreign language. 5) French was recognized as another official language besides Arabic. 6) French teachers were appointed in private and public schools to teach and supervise the teaching of the French language. 7) A system of official public examinations similar to the French system was introduced and adopted. The official certificates awarded included the primary certificate, the brevet, and the two-part baccalaureate. 8) A French government commission administered examinations in Lebanon for the French baccalaureate, which was equivalent to the Lebanese baccalaureate.

After Lebanon gained independence in 1943, the Lebanese authorities adopted the French system of education with minor modification. Arabic became the only official language in the country, and the teaching of Arabic became compulsory. In addition, English was placed on a par with French as a primary foreign language, and in 1951 the Lebanese government established two public secondary schools in Beirut and Tripoli, officially marking the start of secondary public education in the nation.

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceLebanon - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education