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With the beginning of new school year: Libya schools are closed

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — A teachers’ sit-in is closing schools in Libya as the country’s new school year begins, with teachers demanding pay increases from a drained budget as a result of a huge public salary bill and renewed conflict.

Public schools were supposed to open on October 13, but teachers, angry at deteriorating living conditions and steady pay, are holding sit-ins in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and capital Tripoli.

Among those in Benghazi, 47-year-old chemist Ramadan Mohammed, a father of six, says he had to work as a taxi driver to meet his family’s needs.

“My dream was to be a teacher, but unfortunately I was disappointed when I practiced this profession because of its marginalization in my country. The salary of the teacher was supposed to be more than the Minister of Education himself.”

“I am now working as a taxi driver. Did you know that there are times when I miss classes when I have financial obligations? If my salary is excellent and covers my needs and the needs of my home I will not do another work, but I will devote all my time to students and education. This situation is experienced by many teachers at the level of Libya and not just Benghazi.”

Living standards in oil-rich Libya are falling to the bottom amid sporadic war and political turmoil. Libya was once one of the richest countries in the region.

Monthly salaries range from 500 to 850 Libyan dinars ($ 360-610) in public schools at the official exchange rate, much lower than on the black market. Salaries have not risen substantially since before the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Schools have also been chasing out teachers who have no health insurance and no rewards.

Libya is a country deeply divided between rival governments and parliaments in Tripoli and the east since 2014. Six months ago, forces led by military commander Khalifa Hifter, allied with the government in the east, have been waging a campaign to wrest control of the capital. The fighting drained the resources of both sides.

Most of Libya’s estimated 6.5 million people depend on state salaries. Salaries represent more than half of total public spending, a legacy of corruption and political patronage before and after 2011.

The Central Bank of Libya in Tripoli pays salaries to citizens across the country funded by oil revenues. Although some of the salaries that were used for fraud or duplicate salaries were abolished, many still receive salaries without work.

The education sector is particularly inflated. Officials in Tripoli say the records include about 240,000 teachers and other employees in the western and southern regions, including 60,000 to 70,000 reserve teachers. The Benghazi Teachers’ Union says another 190,000 teachers are registered with the government in the east.

– “Hold the chalk” –

Last year, the parliament of eastern Libya passed a decree to raise the salaries of teachers, but it was not enforced.

In Benghazi, where Hifter fought for more than three years before consolidating control in 2017, teachers have been organizing sit-ins in the city center and outside the Education Ministry building since last month.

Benghazi education chief Mustafa al-Darsi said teacher protests had closed more than 200 schools. Families who are financially able have taken their children to private schools.

“Only 18,000 of the 47,000 officially employed in Benghazi were going to work and holding chalk,” Darsi said. They deserved an increase, but financial constraints made it impossible.”

“The situation in the country does not even allow an increase of one dirham, not only for teachers but in general.”

In Tripoli, some school buildings are being used to shelter people displaced by recent fighting that disrupted schooling before the summer.

Dozens of teachers protested on Sunday in front of the government headquarters, demanding pay increases and the dismissal of Education Minister Othman Abdel Jalil.

“We hear about billions of oil revenues every month and we don’t see any development. The government doesn’t want to raise our salaries, that’s not fair,” said a primary school teacher in Tripoli, who preferred to give her first name, Mariam.

In response, Abdul Jalil said teachers who would not return to work by October 27 would be brought to justice.

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