Background and Rationale
Lebanon is facing a number of severe intertwined crises resulting in 4 million people – 82% of its residents – currently living in multidimensional poverty. In parallel, the government is rolling back its subsidies and social safety nets. The majority of the population is struggling to meet its most basic needs, with grave repercussions on children’s education, particularly for the poorest and most marginalized groups. In 2021 alone, 50% of households cut spending on education, 15% pulled children out of school, and 9% sent children to work. At less than 2% of GDP, the Government of Lebanon’s expenditure on education is among the lowest in the region and well below the World Education Forum recommendation of 4-6% of GDP.
The meager amount that the government does spend on education is allocated inefficiently and does not serve those in need. Almost half of the direct government subsidies to “free private schools” go to the wealthiest quintile of the population, while the bottom quintile only benefits from 3% of these subsidies, further exacerbating existing inequalities. Alarmingly, public spending on education risks further cuts in light of the IMF’s expected structural adjustment plan. This comes at a time when the education sector is visibly collapsing under the weight of the economic crisis and the pandemic, as well as preexisting and pervasive systemic challenges.
The pandemic forced school closure for two years and an uneasy and unequal shift to online and hybrid education. The economic crisis forced a shift from private schools to public schools with over 100,000 transfers between 2019 and 2021; severe losses in the value of public teachers’ salaries, now worth between 1 and 2 USD per hour; the emigration of thousands of teachers; frequent and near-constant generator cuts resulting in cold and dim classrooms; rising and the often prohibitive cost of transportation; mass school drop-outs and an increase in child labor. All of this resulted in an effective loss of two years of education, with this third year seemingly following in tow due to country-wide teacher strikes and their unmet demands.
This reality translates into poor learning outcomes, as well as negative coping strategies, such as child marriage, and forced labor, trapping children in a cruel circle of vulnerability, exploitation, and abuse. In the long run, it is likely to result in even starker inequalities that would become increasingly more difficult to reverse.
Ahead of the IMF negotiations, the Government of Lebanon prepared a Reform Plan which acknowledges the importance of education and the promotion of Lebanon as an “education hub” and yet does not offer any concrete measures to sustain education quality or improve access to education. The Reform Plan alludes to a “comprehensive safety net package” to be implemented, yet the only concrete protection measure it offers is a direct cash transfer to the poorest families.
In light of the multidimensional crises, there is a need for a new comprehensive social contract with a forward-looking approach toward social protection of the most marginalized communities and equitable access to education for the poorest resident. The new social contract must integrate sustainable economic development with responsive social policies.
The purpose of this project is to integrate social justice and human security lens into the IMF and the Lebanese Government reform plans, and promote education as a social equalizer and an essential pillar to sustainable peace and economic development, enhancing security and reducing political, economic, and social inequalities and injustices.
- Produce a holistic and common understanding of the current state of the education sector, the challenges faced by the sector stakeholders, as well as the immediate and projected impact of these challenges on education quality, social mobility, inequality, and girls and women’s rights.
- Initiate a constructive and forward-looking policy dialogue, grounded in evidence, among the various stakeholders, including non-education-specific stakeholders whose areas of intervention may be adversely affected by the long-term consequences of the collapse of the education sector (such as CSOs working on early marriage, child labor, protection of marginalized children, poverty alleviation).
- Devise a set of policy recommendations for the education sector that would inform the IMF/government reform plan, in an effort to prevent any reform that would have adverse effects on education quality, socioeconomic inequality, and girls’ rights.
- Advocate for increased fiscal space for education, particularly for the most vulnerable groups such as girls, non-nationals, and impoverished populations, laying the foundation for a new social contract that invests in public systems and social sectors and contributes to closing the gender gap.
The Asfari Institute has joined hands with FEMENA to organize a series of events about women in Afghanistan so that young Afghan students at the American University of Beirut could have a safe space to discuss their important issues related to:
- Monitoring daily news for any developments related to education as well as IMF negotiations and reforms related to education and social protection policy.
- Conducting a situation analysis of the education sector, its interlinkages with social safety nets, and the impact of austerity on key desirable social outcomes.
- Conducting research on the impact of IMF reforms on education and social protection systems in other countries, and investigate any resulting effect on social mobility, indequality, girls’ rights, and the gender gap.
- Co-writing a position paper on the importance of education and holistic social protection systems from an intersectional lens.
- Organizing bilateral meetings with key stakeholders in the education sector for bidirectional exchange of information (we present the research findings; they present their challenges and recommendations).
- Organizing a policy dialogue with education sector stakeholders.
- Writing a policy brief with recommendations.
- Launching a media campaign highlighting research findings and policy recommendations under the framing of a “new social contract”.
- Organizing a conference/nation-wide policy forum with influential stakeholders to discuss findings and how to integrate them into a new social contract.
- Providing the space and facilitation for an all-stakeholder mobilization on the ground.
Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship
American University of Beirut
PO Box 11-0236
Riad El Solh, 1107 2020
Tel: +961-1-350000 EXT. 4469
The Debs Center, 3 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 8th floor
New York, NY 10017-2303, USA