Educators hold 'Catastrophe Day' on Friday

Teachers voice pride but demand better treatment

GMT 01:08 2012 Friday ,09 March

Arab Today, arab today Teachers voice pride but demand better treatment

A teacher at Public School
Beirut - Arabstoday

A teacher at Public School Friday is Teachers’ Day, and while for many in the profession it’s an occasion for celebration and pride, for others it is an opportunity to highlight their deteriorating socio-economic situation and a denial of rights they deem essential.
The state of affairs for teachers has become so bad that some are even re-naming the day. Souma Mshaimesh, a contract Arabic and social sciences teacher at a school in the southern town of Nabatieh, calls Teachers’ Day the “day of catastrophe,” using the same Arabic word that refers to the loss of Palestine in 1948.
“We are participating in a sit-in near the Education Ministry Friday called for by contract high school teachers ... the situation of contract teachers is deteriorating,” she says sadly.
Under the slogan of “Teachers’ Catastrophe Day,” contract high school and vocational teachers will hold a sit-in near the Education Ministry to pressure for treatment closer to that of full-time teachers. Contract teachers are paid by the hour, instead of receiving yearly salaries.
“I’ve been a contract teacher for 14 years,” Mshaimesh says, lamenting that she and other contract teachers “sat for exams at the Civil Service Council in 2010, and we’re still waiting [to become full-timers] ... we didn’t know that connections rather than competence are required for a contract teacher to become a full-time teacher.”
Once teachers become full time, they gain access to benefits from the National Social Security Fund, receive a transportation allowance, benefit from salary raises and are paid monthly.
Currently, Mshaimesh has no access these benefits. She is paid a lump sum every 18 months.
“If they don’t want us to become full-time teachers, then they should at least pay us a transportation allowance, provide us with health care, and raise the wage we are paid per hour,” she says, adding that cost-of-living increases makes her low fixed wages hard to survive on.
But Sawsan Shahin, a full-time teacher, celebrates the holiday with pride. “Personally, I am proud of being a teacher, I am honored to be in this profession, and I celebrate Teachers’ Day despite disadvantages [in the situation of teachers],” she says.
However, Shahin acknowledges that she only became a full-time teacher after “a 15-year struggle,” and still calls her salary “unfair.”
“Although I live with my parents, I can barely afford my essential needs with this salary,” she says, explaining that her pay usually runs out 10 days into the month.
A middle school math teacher at a public school in Hermel, Shahin complains about the administration at her place of employment.
“It is a disaster, favoritism prevails, entrance examinations are not as strict as they should be and many [current] students did not deserve to get into this school,” she explains. But Shahin hasn’t lost hope, and plans to take an active role in teachers’ associations to help secure their rights.
Although Nehme Mahfoud, the head of the Association of Private Schools Teachers, refuses to call Friday “Teachers’ Catastrophe Day,” he expects teachers’ pay, benefits and employment demands to overshadow the celebrations.
“There is a celebration at the UNESCO Palace Friday, during which the Education Minister [Hassan Diab] will make a speech,” Mahfoud says. “I expect this encounter with the minister to be stormy.”
He explains that teachers have two urgent demands. The first is a new salary scale, which Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi needs to prepare before public sector employees, including teachers at public schools, can benefit from the nation-wide salary raise which the government introduced in January.
Teachers in private schools will only receive the salary hike once public sector employees do too, because private schools set teachers’ salaries in accordance with public school standards.
Mahfoud says he met with Safadi a month and a half ago and was told that the minister would prepare the salary scale and forward it to the group, “but he has done nothing so far.”
Mahfoud’s Association of Private Schools Teachers is a member of the Union Coordination Committee, a group of unions that is separate from the General Labor Confederation, the country’s largest coalition of unions.
Once Safadi prepares the salary scale, he must forward it to Cabinet for approval. Then it will be forwarded to parliamentary committees, which must study the scale before Parliament can vote on it.
“It took four months for the salary raise to be issued, and now it seems we’re going to wait for another four months. This is shameful,” the union leader says. “The raise has already been eroded by rising prices.”
The teachers’ second major demand is that the government recognize the degree of educators who teach subjects such as computer science, economics, and theater.
Mahfoud says it is unfortunate that Teachers’ Day is likely to be overshadowed by the demands, and threatens a strike and a protest if Safadi doesn’t ready the salary scale within a week.
“I know the [Education] Minister has nothing to do with the salary scale issue, Mahfoud says of Diab. “But he at least should support us, [and] do his job.”

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