Private versus Public?
The 1993 Education Development Plan reformulated the objectives of the Taif Agreement: it set out ‘to reinforce the public sector of education’, but also ‘to protect private education’.45 Bashshour commented: ‘protect it against what?’46 Indeed, Fig. 7.1 shows that the exponential growth in the number of private schools in Lebanon continued after the Taif Agreement. Most observers would agree that, since 1989, private education has continued to expand at the expense of a weakening state network. This is because private schools have a better reputation than their state coun- terparts.47 Moreno found that private school students perform 10-15 % better than public school students in most exams.48 Thus, by 2010, about
Fig. 7.1 Distribution of schools by foundation year in Lebanon (Central Administration of Statistics, Education (Beirut: Central Administration of Statistics, 2008)) half of Lebanese schools were private or private free (Fig. 7.2), catering for the overwhelming majority of Lebanese children (Fig. 7.3).
Despite the Taif Agreement, government institutional and financial support for state schools has been weak at best: World Bank consultant Moreno estimates that out of the 11 % of Lebanese GDP spent on education, just over 2 % of GDP ‘is public money into public schools’.49 In a ‘surreal’ policy, the Lebanese government provides extensive subsidies to private and private free schools, including educational grants to civil servants allowing state employees to send their children to private schools.50
Poor investment in state schools reveals the post-1989 diminished view of state responsibilities: rather than a provider of welfare, the state emerged simply as the facilitator of ‘a good business environment’.51 It also reflects the inability of successive governments to implement their plans in a politically unstable context. Finally, successive governments may have failed to redirect investment from the private into the public sector because of the political influence of confessional communities, whose interests lay in the survival of private confessional schools.52
However, donors agree that the quality gap between public and private schools, and the weakness of public education, hampers social cohesion and trust in the Lebanese state. In this view, private schools cannot promote ‘national unity’ if they only cater to one confessional commu-
Fig. 7.2 Lebanese schools by type in 2010 (Central Administration of Statistics, State Statistical Yearbook)
Fig. 7.3 Percentage students by type of school in Lebanon in 2010 (Central Administration of Statistics, State Statistical Yearbook)
nity.53 Thus, the World Bank attempted to ‘generate some [social] glue’ by investing in a ten-years Education Development Project. The project aimed to improve the quality of state education and change the perception that public schools are only for the ‘leftovers of society’.54 Its impact was limited because most of its components were not institutionalised, embedded or implemented in the wider education system.55 The United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) similarly attempted to overcome the ‘atrophy’ of the public educational sector through infrastructural investment, teacher trainings, community involvement in school activities, and extracurricular activities in 151 state schools throughout Lebanon.56
Officers in international organisations admit that in the initial stages of projects, local community leaders often campaign to divert part of the funding to private schools.57 Reflecting on the competition between state institutions and private communal schools for international funding, Kotob suggested that perhaps education is ‘a micro-dimension of what the country is’.58 Indeed, donors appear to assume that confessional communities and the state are rivals. For example, a USAID official explained that better state services, including schools, could help construct the Lebanese state as a reference point for citizens. In turn, this would erode allegiance to confessional communities and encourage individuals to ‘think about themselves as Lebanese’.59 This perspective overlooks the fact that in
Lebanon, national and communal identities are ‘hyphenated’ and that the consociational state exists in a complex, dialectical and interdependent relationship with its communities. Education policy is an expression of this interdependent relationship.