Sun 07 May 2023 12:25 pm - Jerusalem Time

The teachers of the "Conservatory" in Lebanon are groaning under the burden of the economic collapse

In one of the branches of the National Higher Institute of Music near Beirut, the classrooms look deserted, and dust covers the keys of abandoned musical instruments after the economic crisis in Lebanon hindered even music education.

And while the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of schools and institutes around the world for several months, the ordeal of music teachers contracting with the institute did not end with limiting the spread of the pandemic, as it was exacerbated by an economic crisis with which their wages decreased and their inability to provide their most basic needs and sometimes the cost of transportation.

"A person does not feel comfortable when he reaches the age of 65 and is still living at the expense of his family. It is funny," says Tawfiq Kerbaj, who has been teaching at the institute since the late 1980s and has been giving lessons via the Internet for many months.

"I have family support and I can still move on, but I don't think everyone has that," he told AFP.

After he was receiving a wage that enabled him to provide for his needs and ensure a decent standard of living, this teacher found himself on the impact of a collapse that the World Bank ranked among the worst in the world, receiving a wage of nearly seventy dollars.

Although what he earns is not enough to pay the generator bill, with the electricity provided by the state institution going out for long hours, this did not prevent him from continuing to teach his students via the Internet, in defiance of the bad communication service in the country.

He explains that teaching music for him is not a job, but "something you do because you love him and you cannot live without him," while a number of his colleagues submitted their resignations.

The National Higher Institute of Music or Conservatoire, which is an official institution, is a prestigious cultural edifice for music education in the country. It attracts thousands of students in 17 branches distributed in several regions.

In an effort to support music teachers and their ability to continue, teachers and students have started organizing a series of musical evenings that provide a platform for musicians and shed light on the dire reality.

"I am here today to stand with my colleagues who are unhappy with the way we are being treated," the initiative's organizer, soprano Ghada Ghanem, told AFP on the sidelines of a concert, speaking of colleagues who changed their places of residence or sold their cars to be able to withstand the deteriorating living situation.

The proceeds from the concerts are invested in organizing additional similar concerts or distributed to the participants, according to Ghanem, who was a student at the Conservatory during the years of the civil war (1975-1990).

Before participating in the initiative's second concert, entitled "We Want to Go astray," she added, "Let us deal with our problems with our talents," because "depression will attack us if we sit and do nothing."

On the same evening, Matthew Atta (ten years old) met for the first time with his guitar teacher, although he had been taking lessons with him via the Internet for two years.

"We really hope that things will improve," and his mother, Rita Jabbour, tells AFP that homework will resume, especially since her son suffers from hearing problems that make it more complicated to follow his online lessons.

Other students do not hide their frustration with the long period of online learning and the interruption from attending the institute.

Software engineer Aline Shalfarjian, 33, who studies the oud and vocals, says she has "lost motivation".

She explains that the Conservatory has always been "my second home", but "today we feel left out".

Like public sector employees, teachers contracted to the Conservatoire have gone on strike several times to demand an adjustment to their hourly wages. The matter went so far as to terminate the retirement of Eddie Dorléans, head of the teaching staff association at the institute, after he organized several protests.

The soprano conservatory president and composer, Hiba al-Kawas, the first woman to head the institute in Lebanon, links the slow response to teachers' demands and the political stalemate in Lebanon, due to the presidential vacancy and the consequent paralysis in the work of the executive and legislative branches.

She says that since assuming her duties during the past year, she has made unremitting efforts to improve the situation, and was able, despite obstacles, to secure an increase in the hourly allowance and the transportation allowance, to be applied soon with retroactive effect.

The hourly allowance is scheduled to rise from thirty thousand pounds per hour (about 0.5 dollars) to 300 thousand pounds, which means, according to al-Qawas, "we will start urban education, and I hope that this will constitute a new era."

"It's the first step," she explains.

Kerbaj is optimistic about the proposed wage increase, which is supposed to be hundreds of dollars.

"I will be able to pay for fuel and electricity and provide some food," he says.


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The teachers of the "Conservatory" in Lebanon are groaning under the burden of the economic collapse