BEIRUT: Forced to teach the wrong subjects, scrape by on decimated wages and even buy their own chalk, demoralized Lebanese teachers are heading abroad — many lured by well-paid jobs in the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon’s three-year-old economic crisis has caused havoc in the country’s schools, with teachers’ strikes closing many for months on end, and dropout rates have surged as families send children out to work instead.
Primary school teacher Diane Akil, 26, took a job in Dubai because the situation had become “intolerable,” but even then the decision to leave her job in the city of Saida was painful, she said.
“I used to teach my students about the importance of nationalism and the sacrifices one must make for one’s country, and now I’m in a new country, learning its national anthem to teach it to my new students. I feel like a hypocrite,” she said.
Lebanon’s economy has been in free fall since 2019, and the pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value, fueling inflation, wiping out savings and pushing about three-quarters of the country’s 6.7 million.
The crisis has driven tens of thousands of skilled Lebanese professionals, including doctors, nurses, academics and entrepreneurs to leave in search of jobs abroad — a brain drain that threatens the country’s prospects of long-term recovery.
Last year, the number of people who left the country rose more than three times from a year earlier to nearly 80,000, according to research by local consulting firm, Information International.
The country’s schools could feel the effects of the exodus for years to come. For now, it is piling even more misery onto the profession.
Due to a severe shortage of substitutes, teachers said they often had to supervise huge groups of students or cover extra classes, forcing them to prepare classes at home.
One teacher at a private school in the capital, Beirut, said she had been switched from teaching history to English and science classes to plug staffing gaps.
Caretaker Education Minister Abbas Al-Halabi acknowledged the deficit of staff.
“There are currently substantial teacher supply challenges which, unless tackled with practical solutions, will leave the sector with a serious deficit in professional capital,” he said, adding that recruitment agencies were targeting the country’s teachers to fill well-paid jobs in the UAE.
Though many teachers complain that they cannot even afford gasoline to drive to work, the government has repeatedly ruled out a pay raise for the profession, saying that would force it to increase the wages of all public sector workers.
Lebanon’s educational sector, prized throughout the Middle East as a regional leader, was once ranked 10th globally by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.
But at least 700,000 of Lebanon’s 2 million school-age children missed at least part of the previous school year as child labor rates reached 45 percent in some areas, humanitarian education agencies estimate.
Among young people aged between 15 and 24, enrolment in educational institutions dropped to 43 percent in the current academic year from 60 percent in 2020-2021, according to UN research.
Those who do enrol face numerous practical hurdles — from frequent power outages lasting longer than 20 hours each day that make finishing homework difficult to surging transport costs.
“I’m constantly worried about the electricity hours at my house, and I’m always demotivated by the amount of unemployed people I encounter,” said Carla, 17, a student who asked not to give her surname.
As the crisis heads into a fourth year, students and teachers alike see few reasons to be optimistic.
Dayana Moudallal, 28, a Lebanese physics instructor who quit her job at a school in Beirut to take a teaching post in Abu Dhabi, said she felt she had no choice but to emigrate.
By 2021, she said she had “no desire to teach, no means of subsistence, no stability in life, and no money.”
“I was exhausted and underpaid ... I had to leave.”