Libya’s education minister decries war-wrought devastation on students

The Education Ministry’s $5.6 billion budget is a fraction of the amount needed to upgrade the country’s system.
Sunday 18/03/2018
Libya’s Education Minister Osman Abdel Jalil. (Libyan Embassy in Cairo)
Complex challenges. Libya’s Education Minister Osman Abdel Jalil. (Libyan Embassy in Cairo)

CAIRO - Security unrest, a lack of funding and the absence of opportunities for teacher training hinder the progress of education in Libya, Education Minister Osman Abdel Jalil warned.

“Some schools have stopped operating altogether and others are in a very bad condition,” Abdel Jalil said. “In some areas, the teachers are incapable of maintaining their work because of the violence.”

Libya has faced a seemingly endless cycle of violence and infighting following a popular uprising against autocratic ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 morphed into a civil war. Since then, rival governments have been competing for control of the country. Abdel Jalil is a member of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, which is led by Fayez al-Sarraj and which controls Tripoli.

About 1.5 million students are enrolled in Libya’s schools and 350,000 are in its universities but education has been among the prime victims of the country’s turmoil. Many schools have been destroyed or stopped operating, whether due to lack of teachers or security fears.

“The conditions in the schools and the universities in southern Libya and in the eastern cities are far worse than those in some areas in the western parts of the country,” Abdel Jalil said. “A rising pitch of violence in those areas makes continuing the educational process impossible. Going to work for the teachers and attending classes for the students is a heroic mission.”

Abdel Jalil travelled to Cairo to discuss cooperation with Egypt’s educational institutions, support for those in Libya and training for Libyan teachers.

Abdel Jalil took office in April 2017, a time when conditions in Libya’s schools and universities were at their worst following years of infighting.

Abdel Jalil said that, while conditions were still far from good, the ministry had been able to take positive measures, including unifying the curriculum in eastern, western and southern Libya.

“This will ensure the cohesion of the educational process and facilitate the mission of upgrading the curricula,” Abdel Jalil said. “The schools and the universities everywhere in Libya need to operate as parts of the same state, not different states.”

Abdel Jalil said that ensuring a cohesive curriculum was one issue among many that need to be resolved to restore Libya’s educational process. For example, violence forced approximately 12% of school-age children to stay home, the Education Ministry said, although unofficial figures are much higher.

The Education Ministry’s $5.6 billion budget is a fraction of the amount needed to upgrade the country’s system. The ministry is also incapable of raising the pay of thousands of teachers who have gone on strike numerous times to protest low salaries and the ministry’s inability to pay salaries on time.

“We need, at least, three times as much to keep the schools functioning,” Abdel Jalil said. “The teachers are also badly in need of training.”

The psychological effects the war in Libya is having on the students far outweighs the effects the same war is having on school facilities, he said.

“The schools can be easily rebuilt or new ones can be constructed if we get the needed funding,” Abdel Jalil said. “Nonetheless, the psychological effects the war is leaving on students and the next generation of Libyans will linger and shape the future of the people of this country for many years to come.”

Many students, especially those in areas where violence continues to rage, suffer psychological disorders and traumas. Some of the disorders will shape the way the students see the world.

The Education Ministry established an administration within the ministry for guidance and psychological support. The administration has an office in each municipality to help the students overcome psychological trauma.

That administration also faces many challenges, not least a lack of funding and qualified staff.

“The current generation of Libyans is far less lucky than those who were born and lived in Libya years ago,” Abdel Jalil said. “Our country cannot have a good future without education but, sorry to say, the war makes this good future something that is difficult to have.”