Education Minister Hasan Diab
Beirut - Arabstoday
Education Minister Hasan Diab said he was surprised by the Kataeb (Phalange) party’s opposition to the draft unified history curriculum since the party had approved of a proposal in the same form.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Star, Diab lamented that the discussion of the draft curriculum was suspended and said he was surprised when Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel came out against the proposal.
“Sheikh Sami took a merely political stance ... although he previously accepted the curriculum, which we did not change,” the minister said. “Maybe they do not want this Cabinet to have the big achievement [of passing a unified history curriculum].”
Diab said that former Education Minister Hasan Mneimneh had formed a committee of historians which included representatives of all sects and parties, including the Kataeb.
“It laid down a history curriculum up to grade 9 that was agreed upon by all parties, including the Kataeb,” he said.
The education minister added that after assuming office, he forwarded the curriculum to Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who established a ministerial committee to study it.
Gemayel opposes the draft history curriculum, arguing that it does not mention his party’s resistance against Syrian and Palestinian forces in Lebanon during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War, while highlighting the resistance against Israel. Mikati decided to withdraw the topic from discussion following opposition from the Kataeb.
But Diab said the only difference between the proposals was the end date for the curriculum.
“The committee proposed ... that the last event to be addressed by the curriculum will be the Feb. 14, 2005 martyrdom of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri,” he said. “The idea behind this was not to cancel the Cedar Revolution [which reached its peak one month later],” he added, in reference to a series of popular protests that erupted in the aftermath of the Hariri killing and led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Diab said that waiting four years to write about the period of 2005 to 2010 will ensure that it is objective. Mneimneh’s committee proposed that the last event will be the May 2008 election of Michel Sleiman.
The minister said he sees no alternative to the current Cabinet and believes that attacks against it are politically motivated.
“If the opposition cooperates with the Cabinet to help the educational sector, wouldn’t this benefit everyone?” he said.
Asked about efforts to develop new curricula for primary school, Diab said that new curricula are currently being tested in kindergarten and grades 1-3, while those for grades 4-6 are still being studied. The current curricula have been in use since 1998.
In response to questions on the safety of school buildings, Diab described the situation in many of the 1,300 public schools across Lebanon as “scary.”
“Students will be moving out of seven schools because we will not subject them to dangers,” he said. “This issue is very worrying.”
Diab added that an engineering unit was examining public schools across the country.
Three students were killed last month when the wall surrounding their private school’s courtyard collapsed.
The education minister also sought to assure secondary public school teachers, who are planning a strike for Thursday, that their demands will be fully met.
The teachers have come out against a new salary scale that Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi is preparing for the public sector, arguing that it will change the ratio of their salaries to that of other public employees. Since 1966, their pay has been 60 percent higher than others in the public sector.
The teachers are also demanding that the ratio of their salaries to those of Lebanese University professors be restored. In the past, a secondary teacher’s salary was 80 to 85 percent of that of an LU professor, but this changed when Parliament passed a salary hike for LU professors earlier this year.
“This is a rightful demand and the ministry’s proposal for the salary scale is in line with the demands of secondary teachers at public schools,” Diab said. “We are communicating with them on one side and with the Finance Ministry on the other.”
“I personally believe this issue will be resolved ... it is [only] a matter of time since the scale is being currently prepared,” he said, adding that Safadi supports the teachers’ demands as well.
Diab said he believes there will be no need for teachers to escalate their stance and boycott the evaluation of grade 9 and grade 12 official exams, emphasizing that the educators are keenly aware of the repercussions of such a move. Grade 12 students in Lebanon need to pass official exams in order to join universities and ninth graders must pass the exams to attend high school.
Another thorny issue the minister is grappling with is the demands of contract public school teachers in elementary and middle schools who have been protesting a six-month delay in the payment of their salaries.
They are also demanding that Diab withdraw a draft law to hold an open examination to fill vacant posts for full-time teachers, which is currently being studied by Parliament’s Education Committee. The contract teachers, who are striking Wednesday, demand that examinations be restricted to them.
Diab said the salary delay should soon be resolved.
“The problem is financial ... Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi ... said ... that he is in need of the Cabinet’s approval of a new loan of LL4.9 trillion,” he said.
However, Diab said he supports the draft law to hold an open examination, arguing that restricted examinations do not give equal opportunity for everybody to apply.
“We want the best. I am interested in [boosting] the level of elementary and middle school education.”
He also outlined a number of advantages which contract teachers will have over other applicants.
“When contract teachers take the examinations, they will get additional points based on the years of service, half a point for every year but with a ceiling of four points out of 20,” he said.
As for contract teachers who fail the examinations, they will get paid a one-month salary for each year of service as compensation for being let go.
Nearly 11,000 contract teachers in public elementary and middle schools have been hired in recent years. The ministry currently needs to recruit around 3,500 full-time teachers.
As for the process of hiring full-time LU professors, the minister said he received from the institution’s president, Adnan Sayyed Hussein, a draft list of candidates for the posts. The candidates are currently contract professors.
Responding to the objection voiced often by contract professors that the list did not take seniority into consideration, Diab said: “It is possible that a contract professor with two working years be admitted as a full-time professor rather than one with 10 working years because the specialty of the former is badly needed by a certain faculty.”
Asked about efforts to appoint deans for LU faculties, all of which are currently headed by acting deans, Diab said that each faculty has already forwarded the names of five candidates for the post to Sayyed Hussein. Sayyed Hussein still has to pick three from each list of five and send these names to the minister who would forward them to the Cabinet to pick one head for each faculty.
Diab said that appointing the deans is “complicated because you have to take into consideration the required [sectarian] balance.”
“But I believe that the five which each faculty has chosen ... are distinguished,” he said.