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Cooperative fund initiative to support volunteer teachers in Idlib

A teacher at one of rural Idlib's schools - 2019 (Enab Baladi)

A teacher at one of rural Idlib's schools - 2019 (Enab Baladi)

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The European Union (EU) Department of the Chemonics International Organization, which is responsible for educational grants, has suspended its financial support to the education directorate in Idlib. The support was designated for paying the salaries of teachers at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. 

The suspension of wages and salaries caused a financial crisis for the teachers who have been working “remotely” since 30 March, after traditional face-to-face classes were suspended as a preventive measure against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Therefore, the education directorate decided to establish a cooperative fund to assist its volunteers, after being “unable” to provide them with financial support via civil society organizations and United Nations’ (UN) agencies.

On 7 May, the directorate stated on its Facebook page that the fund is aimed at paying the salaries of volunteers including teachers of the second cycle of basic education, high school teachers, educational guidance personnel, and specialists. The number of volunteers covered by the fund is 3,900. 

The directorate set out the fund’s revenues depending on the annual voluntary cooperation fee of 10 US Dollars (USD) obtained from teachers assigned “without a contract,” besides 30 percent of revenues taken from the “school collaboration and activity fee” specified by the procedural rules of schools. The fund is also raised through donations and a school concession stand.

Ten dollars causes controversy

The cooperative fund’s announcement sparked controversy among teachers, some of whom criticized the decision and demanded the directorate to publish names of volunteer teachers benefiting from this fund.

Luna Abdul Rahman, a teacher in one of Idlib’s schools, commented on the announcement saying that the salaries were cut off from the teachers for not paying a fee of 10 USD. She accused the directorate of “stealing and not giving donations to teachers.”

On the other hand, the principle of “al-Hurriya” High School, Hiba Tarsha, expressed her surprise regarding the negative comments on the announcement. She wrote, “we all know we are at war; therefore, we must support each other even with a little sum of an already small salary.”

Tarsha stated that the paying donation of 10 USD is a good idea, and she called for implementing the initiative for “it is worth donating for,” as per her expression.

Sari al-Rahmoun, the headmaster of “Miratah” School in Killi town’s camp, northern Idlib, initially objected to the decision to establish the fund; however, after inquiring the directorate about it, and knowing that it is a non-binding decision,” he changed his mind.

Al-Rahmoun started to believe that the decision was necessary but came late. He said the decision has been in effect for a while, as 10 USD is cut off from teachers’ first salaries upon their appointment, then the sum is collected and given to volunteer teachers.

Al-Rahmoun told Enab Baladi that all teachers at Idlib’s educational complex and Ariha’s complex received an annual grant of 200 USD, while teachers at the Harem complex were not included in the grant assistance.

He indicated that the objection to the decision was due to confusion in understanding it.

What are the reasons behind creating the fund?

“People are donating on their own, we are not obliging anyone, and not taking any punitive action against non-contributing staff.” With these words, Abdullah al-Absi, the director of Idlib’s educational complex, responded to the backlash about the decision to create the cooperative fund.

He confirmed to Enab Baladi that the established “solidarity” fund is a non-mandatory voluntary one, which aims to support volunteer teachers “as much as possible.” He added, “there is a good turnout of the teachers, which indicates an ethical obligation towards our volunteer colleagues.”

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Mustafa al-Haj Ali, the head of the media office of the education directorate in Idlib, said that the idea of establishing the fund came after Chemonics organization decided suddenly to stop its support for most teachers in Idlib, limiting it to include 4,100 teachers only.

Al-Haj Ali highlighted that the European grant was suspended, but the US grant remained ongoing, as it provided salaries only to the first cycle teachers.

Besides, the education directorate gathered more than three to four thousand volunteer teachers working at schools under its supervision. The number of schools reached 1,194 before the Russians carried out their military campaign on Idlib in April 2019, according to al-Haj Ali.

Volunteer teachers worked until the end of this school year, which was interrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They worked fully and voluntarily, receiving no remuneration of any kind.

Accordingly, the directorate decided on establishing the fund unanimously, based on a vote conducted by Hassan Showa, the director of the education directorate. This fund was to be supervised by the “Free Union” and other civil society organizations.

Al-Haj Ali emphasized that records and documents regarding the fund will be announced, and that “everyone will be able to check it as a sign of credibility.”

What about the school collaboration and activity fee?

The fund’s establishing decision indicates that 30 percent of its revenues are from the “school collaboration and activity fee” defined by the rules of procedure, as well as from donations and school concession stands’ financial returns.

On the school collaboration and activity fee, al-Haj Ali pointed out that it is usually collected according to the students’ age groups, with an exemption for some of them.

According to al-Haj Ali, this fee is collected by the school’s management board. It is spent “exclusively” on students, and varies between 500 and 1,500 Syrian Pound (SYP = less than one USD), according to the age-group, school cycle, the living conditions of students’ families, and the geographic location.

Al-Haj Ali noted that some organizations exempted the students’ families from the school collaboration and activity fee collected this year for the education directorate’s fund. 

The fund revenues were used to rehabilitate schools and secure diesel oil to keep students warm in winter. Meanwhile, 30 percent of the fund’s revenues will be cut off and distributed among the volunteer teachers, “without reducing any of the services provided to students.”

 

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