The Lebanese educational system is divided in two sectors: private schools and universities, for which there is a charge for admission, and public (government) schools and universities that are practically free of charge. This system is well developed and reaches all levels of the population. Lebanon maintained this advanced educational system structure by well-training its teachers before the conflict. Beirut, the Lebanese capital, served as an educational center for the region; however, this system suffered heavy damage during the civil war, but has still survived.
Education was once almost exclusively the responsibility of religious communities or foreign groups, but because the number of students in public schools has risen to more than two-fifths of the total school enrollment, the government was pressured to open more public schools to meet the demands of the general public. Public and private schools differ concerning the elementary phase of the educational system. While public schools have not paid much attention to the preschool phase and have required students to be five-years-old to be accepted in kindergarten until the 1990s, private schools have always had a preschool phase and have accepted students as young as three-years-old. Hence, students in private schools spend one year at the nursery school, another year at kindergarten one, and a third year at kindergarten two. This may help explain the difference in academic performance, which is usually higher among those attending private schools than among those attending public schools.
The Lebanese educational system has usually relied heavily on private schooling to accommodate the evergrowing demand for learning in the country. Private schools, which are in their overwhelming majority dependent on various religious communities, have a long and strong tradition in Lebanon. This fact has led to a great variety of educational institutions in the country, which may be considered as a reflection of the openness of the government to the international community. Aside from private schools established by western clerics (French, Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and Italians), there are many and diverse local and foreign religious and secular schools. The majority of these schools are funded by private religious groups—mainly Jesuits (Catholics who came in 1625 and, with the Maronites, established the first religious schools in Lebanon); Presbyterian missionaries who came to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, in 1866 and started a rivalry with Catholics by establishing the American University of Beirut and high schools; and Makasids or Muslim schools started in many mosques in big cities and supported by wealthy Islamic nations such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. These religious schools led to and fostered some divisions and barriers among the Lebanese people, which have been very hard to break and, in turn, fueled the civil war for many years in Lebanon.
Even though the Lebanese educational system has depended heavily on private schools, the Lebanese Ministry of Education for Youth and Sport has been able to control the system through its licensing of private schools and its requirements for their graduates to pass the government baccalaureate examination at the end of the secondary cycle. These requirements and regulations have forced private schools not to deviate too far from the government curricula in pre-university education.
The new school curricula was launched in September 1998, and the Educational Center for Research and Development had trained 16,000 teachers in public schools and 6,000 teachers in private schools on the new uses and principles of the new program. The new system took into account economic, social, and national perspectives. The principle characteristics of this new system consist of the following:
- The total duration in school remains intact, 12 years.
- The primary cycle of general education has been increased by one year, and is divided into two modules of three years each, while the intermediary cycle was reduced to three years instead of four.
- The first year of general education's secondary cycle must be considered common for all four different series of instruction, and the second year is common to only two out of four series.
- Lebanese students are not allowed to enter formal technical education before age 12, which is the age limit of obligatory education.
- The scholastic year was changed to 36 weeks, and 4 supplementary hours per week were added at the intermediary and secondary cycles.
Thus, the organization of instructional cycles reflects positively on career choices in all sectors of production. Also the ties between instruction and the work market have become consolidated, which guarantees professional opportunities for those who desire them. In addition, the reform of the educational system included elaborate scholastic programs that were inspired from the principles of the new constitution emanated from the Taef Accord. It took into account the future of the Lebanese citizens and their sacred values (tolerance, liberty, and democracy).
In short, the new formal educational system of Lebanon, like in many other countries, divides the years of instruction as follows: 6-3-3 (six years for the primary cycle, three years for the intermediate cycle, and three years for the secondary cycle), followed by the higher education cycle. Primary school education is followed either by a six-year intermediary and secondary program, leading to the official Lebanese baccalaureate certificate, which was originally based on the equivalent French school diploma, or by a three- to six-year technical or vocational training program.
Lebanese vocational education started in the late 1940s. It is mostly available in the private sector rather than in the public domain, and it is offered mainly at the secondary level as well as at the Lebanese University or other institutions of higher education. There are 1508 public and private intermediary and secondary schools for the general instruction program in Lebanon, while there are only 262 schools for the technical and professional instruction program divided between the public sector (29 schools) and the private sector (233 schools). So, the number of schools designated to professionally and technically teach students constitutes less than 12 percent, and the number of students oriented toward the formal technical and professional program represents less than 9 percent of the overall total number of students. A definite equilibrium between the two types of instruction is, therefore, needed in the country. In addition, this percentage becomes even weaker when considering the intermediary level alone (1.3 percent). Formal schools have not concerned themselves much with professional instruction at this level, leaving it for the secondary level in general.
Education is compulsory until the end of the intermediate cycle, is available to all Lebanese students, and is attended by nearly 95 percent of school-age children. However, compulsory education has not been fully implemented by Lebanese authorities, especially in urban slums and remote rural areas. Low cost government schools are available to all but are of generally low quality compared to private schools. Therefore, those who can afford to pay the cost of sending their kids to private schools would do so and end up paying for their primary as well as their secondary schooling because of the high quality education they receive. When it is time to enter college, students are usually faced with a required competency entry test before they can be accepted.
The school year starts in early October and ends in late June. The school day consists of six hours starting at 8:00 a.m. with two hour lunch break and ends at 4:00 p.m. The length of class periods ranges from 50 to 55 minutes. Both public and private schools are supposed to observe official holidays, which are decided by the government; however, Christian-administered, religious private schools take Saturday and Sunday off every week, while Moslem-run religious private schools take Friday and Sunday, and Jewish-run private schools take off all of Saturday and Sunday afternoon only.
As to special education concerning handicapped students, there were about 10,000 handicapped people in 1975 (prior to the Lebanese civil war). During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, this number reached 13,000; it is more than 15,000 in 2001. About 2,500 handicapped people were being educated and made ready to enter the work market. In addition, there was a pedagogic plan affirming the necessity of organizing the schooling of gifted students and devoting specific pedagogic programs to them that may address and respond to their fundamental needs. One of these programs is called al-Makfoufine (Blind Program), which consists of mixing blind students with other students in the same classrooms; this has proved to be an effective program.
The number of students going to schools and universities was expanding each year until the beginning of the civil war; it then began to decline because of unstable political and security conditions, substantial damage of school facilities, the mass exodus of people fleeing the war, and the scarcity of qualified teachers. This decline, however, changed after the civil war and took an upswing. For instance, the total student enrollment increased for four consecutive academic years after the civil war ended and people returned to their areas or houses. There was a steady increase from 770,599 students in 1993-1994 to 799,905 students in 1994-1995 to 829,338 students in 1995-1996 and, finally, to 878,102 students in 1996-1997. In addition, females appeared to have a slightly higher percentage than males with regard to attending schools and universities. After age 25 male attendance becomes almost double that of female attendance. Females get married at an earlier age than males in Lebanon and, when married, they mostly assume the traditional role of taking care of housekeeping responsibilities. They, therefore, have little time to go to schools and universities in order to further their education.
According to the CAS Survey, the literacy rate was 88.4 percent in 1997, as compared to 68.2 percent in 1970. The Lebanese Republic traditionally had an advanced educational structure and well-trained technicians and engineers. Prior to the conflict, Beirut served as an educational center for the region. However, a substantial part of its human capital was reduced during the conflict, and the educational system suffered damage and lack of investment. In spite of the turmoil, however, the educational system has survived and still retains high standards.
The Lebanese schools are unevenly distributed among the five mohafazats (provinces). The Greater Beirut area has the highest concentration of all schools and universities. The large population concentration in and around Beirut accounts for its schools' high enrollments. The Lebanese government provides facilities for public schools, but these facilities are poorly equipped in general. Few of them have libraries, laboratories, and playgrounds. Private school facilities are mostly better equipped than public school buildings.
Due to the Lebanese people's negative attitude toward manual work, especially in industry and agriculture, students of lower socioeconomic status enroll mostly in vocational and technical schools. Therefore, there is a big difference between the two major types of instruction, as well as the relative numbers of schools and students enrolled in each of these types. For example, in the academic year 1993-1994, the total number of public and private schools for the general instruction program was 1,508 (878 were public and 630 were private). However, the total number of schools for the technical and professional instruction program was 262 (29 were public and 233 were private). Fields of training in vocational schools include automotive and airplane mechanics, communication, electricity and electronics, printing, watch making, and welding.
Progression from one level to another depends generally upon passing official external examinations administered by the government at the end of each school cycle. The primary certificate (first official examination), which used to take place at the end of the primary school cycle, is now eliminated from the new educational system. The brevet certificate (intermediate studies examination) takes place at the end of the ninth grade, and the baccalaureate exams (part I and II) are given at the end of the second and third years of the secondary cycle. The brevet certificate is only required by public schools, vocational schools, and teacher training institutes. The baccalaureate part I exam has two main tracks: literary and scientific. The baccalaureate part II has four main tracks: literature and humanities, which includes language, literature, history, philosophy, education, arts, and religion; sociology and economy, which includes economic sciences, politics, business and management, law, and sociology; general sciences, which includes mathematics, physics, chemistry, and their applications at the level of engineering; and life sciences, which includes biology and life sciences, chemistry and their applications in the area of medicine, health, agriculture, and other related subjects.
Most institutions of higher education require entrance examinations besides the baccalaureate part II, which is required by law. These exams vary from one institution to another, but they usually cover language competency (native and foreign), science, and mathematics.
The grading system is generally based on scales of 0 to 20 or 0 to 100, with 10 or 60, respectively, as passing grades. This system also differs between French-oriented and English/American-oriented private schools. The French-oriented private schools, as well as the Lebanese public schools, grade on a scale of 0 to 20, with 10 as a passing grade. The English/American-oriented private schools use either a letter grade system, with A, B, C, and D as passing grades, or a scale of 0 to 100, with 60 as a minimum passing grade.
The curriculum in Lebanese schools is somewhat rigid, for all students must pursue the same programs in all three cycles (primary, intermediate, and secondary) except in the second year of the secondary cycle when students begin to branch out to one of the emphasis areas and continue to branch out further in the third year of the secondary cycle, which eventually prepares them to more easily pursue their higher education. The syllabi are usually set by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport. The textbooks are commercially produced in order to meet certain specifications of the syllabi. Both private and public schools are free to choose their textbooks; however, after the creation of the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) in the early 1970s, the government began to adopt (for the public schools only) books that were produced by the research unit of this center. Private schools can choose textbooks that meet their syllabi, except in the civics area where the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport requires them to use the center's textbooks.
Arabic and either French or English are the languages of instruction in the Lebanese schools. The subjects taught in Arabic have been limited to Arabic language and literature, history, geography, and civics. All of the other subjects have been taught in either French or English, depending on the school orientation or affiliation. While Arabic language dominates in public schools as a major language of instruction and French or English are taught as subjects at the primary cycle, in private schools, however, French or English dominates since all the subjects except Arabic language and civics are taught in a foreign language. In addition, the type of language that a person uses to communicate with others is usually related to politics, loyalty, religion, and social status.
The methods of instruction used in Lebanese classrooms are mostly traditional. Teachers spend a great deal of time lecturing, giving homework and reading assignments to students, and correcting exercises completed in the classroom. Students play a generally passive role in the instruction process. They listen quietly to their teacher, rarely question what is presented, and copy material dictated by the teacher, who uses textbooks as major sources of instruction. Later on, oral recitation by students is used for grading purposes. Memorization of facts and events is greatly emphasized in Lebanese schools, especially for the purpose of passing external formal exams. Therefore, it is not unusual to see standard answers given to questions on official examinations because certain teachers require their students to memorize model answers for certain topics. Implementation of new ideas and methods has been hampered by the lack of adequate educational facilities and well-trained professionals in that regard. However, private fee-charging schools practice more progressive and advanced methods of instruction, which are geared toward the increasing involvement of students in the instructional process. These interactive methods made some private fee-charging schools more famous in the Middle East region and attracted many students from other Arab or Near East nations.
Because of their quality education and high tuition fees, these private schools attracted students from the richest families, while poor families, who cannot afford to pay tuition fees for their children's education, have been somewhat satisfied, but not happy, to send them to either public or private tuition-free schools, which are usually subsidized by the government. Private schools are mostly sectarian and controlled by different religious denominations. Other types of private schools are owned by individuals or run by associations or committees, like al-Makassid.
The United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency (UNRWA) provides funds supporting a private nonsectarian school system for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East. This type of private schooling has been very effective in offering education and social services for children of Palestinian Refugees residing in Lebanon. Besides the many primary, intermediary, and secondary schools, the UNRWA runs a two-year secondary teacher education program, which prepares primary and intermediate school teachers who serve their schools. In addition, the agency sponsors a technical training center for students who intend to pursue a vocational or technical career.
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