Written by: Rima Youssef
Translated by: Lina Yahya Raydan
NNA - It' September...and as usual with the beginning of this month the specter of school tuition fees terrifies parents as it would consume their savings and empty their pockets, not to mention the high cost of books and stationery.
Parents' suffering is renewed every year at the beginning of the scholastic year, as they have to pay for just one child -- and before she/he starts school-- more than one thousand dollars for stationery, books, portfolio and uniform other than the first installment. This is for just one child; how would the case be if they had three children at school?
The Crime is public and legitimate and the victims are many!
Is there who cares for this recurrent tragedy, and what is the solution? Who is responsible for changing books' editions and prices?
"Alo Beirut" program-- broadcasted via "Radio Lebanon" and prepared and presented by Natalie Issa-- raised this subject and discussed it with the President of private education department at the Education Ministry, Imad Ashker, head of school books' publishers, Elias Saad, and Vice President of the Union of parents' Committees, Antoine Shidiac.
For his part, Saad said that "the school administration is the one responsible for book selection and edition change, not publishers," adding that the administration is supposed to give students a list of the books which should be free to purchase from anywhere they want.
He noted that bookshops have the right to feel bad towards schools that sell books, pointing that only schools which have a trade record and abide by observed laws are allowed to do so.
Saad pointed out that the Economy Ministry, the Education Ministry and school administrations were responsible for selling books without a license.
In turn, Head of the private education department at the Education Ministry, Imad Al-Ashker, said that the law related to schools stated that the "school administration determines the books and stationery, but it does not oblige the student to purchase them from school."
He noted that a committee comprising members of the private education department, Ministry of Economy and Consumer Protection has been touring schools for this purpose, adding that tickets were issued against some schools; warnings were given to others who have violated or not fully committed to the decision.
Ashker pointed to cooperation between the Ministries of Education and Economy to fight schools' monopoly over books.
He confirmed -- based on a decision taken by the Education Minister -- that there won't be any increase on school tuition as long as there's no official law on the matter.
For his part, Antoine Chidiac, said that if the salary scale file were approved, the state would fund the public sector, wondering who would fund the private sector, especially schools.
He added, "we will pay it; we will pay the tax twice," stressing that he supports the rights of teachers.
Commenting on the role of the parents' committees in fighting any unjustified increase, he said that all parents should take part in the elections of parents' committees, stressing need for effective participation.
Chidiac noted that schools of 400 to 500 students, especially the semi-free schools, were threatened to close if the salary scale was approved.
Commenting on this issue, Ashker explained that the state supports such schools (semi-free schools).
As for concerns over high book prices, Saad explained that "there are three sources for school books in Lebanon: Educational Research and Development Council, private publishing houses -- there are about 70 publishing houses in Lebanon, so there is educational and commercial competition-- and imported books, which we prefer due to their usefulness to students."
He added that the state prices were fixed and not subject to any manipulation, "those of the publishing houses are controlled as they should be based on those of the pricing committee affiliated with the syndicate in coordination with the Ministry of Economy; while as prices of imported books, though expensive, they are just in proportion with the economic situation."
He added that the problem of books is that it is the first that the parents encounter at the beginning of the scholastic year.
Talking about program change, Saad said, "it is an international issue; in Europe, every three years the edition is changed where as in Lebanon this happens every five years or less," pointing out to the presence of some exceptions and noting that school administrations shoulder this responsibility.
A scholastic year starts and another ends, children grow and so do the tuition fees but more rapidly...