Libya staff await news of schools' fate

11th March 2011 at 00:00
But teachers in Egypt begin returning to their classrooms

Scores of British teachers evacuated from Libya face weeks of uncertainty while they wait to see if their schools will be able to safely re-open, as the north African country teeters on the brink of civil war.

Teachers based at British, international and English-language schools in Tripoli and Benghazi were evacuated last month as the Libyan army launched a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

The displaced staff are now in "limbo" in Britain and details are only just beginning to emerge of whether they will continue to be paid and will receive any other support.

The International School in Tripoli, a 450-pupil all-through school managed by the Gems chain, said in a website memo that its staff, 90 per cent of whom are British, were showing "resilience and a real eagerness to return", and added it was "working towards" re-opening on 10 April.

A support centre has been set up in Dubai to deal with questions from parents and staff about what will happen next with the school.

The British Council said it had withdrawn 60 teachers and their families from Libya, including from its own teaching centre in Tripoli.

Other evacuated teachers were based at 10 universities, where they were involved in training Libyan graduates to become teachers.

The council said all operations were "currently suspended" as it monitored the situation, but added it was continuing to pay staff and offer accommodation and counselling if needed.

Independent Association of Prep Schools chief executive David Hanson said the evacuation of 12 staff and 125 pupils from the British School in Tripoli, one of its members, was completed and it "remained closed for the immediate future".

"Obviously, the main priority for the school at the moment is to ensure pupils and staff are safe and secure, and we wait to hear when they might be able to return," he said.

In Egypt, international schools are re-opening following the uprising last month that toppled its long-standing ruler Hosni Mubarak.

But even though the majority of teachers have returned, there has been a dramatic drop in pupil numbers in some schools.

Gerard Flynn, head of Maadi British International School in Cairo, said that, while the vast majority of his 26 staff had returned, only 225 out of 420 children were attending. This is largely because their parents' employers or their home governments are yet to give the go-ahead.

Mr Flynn said the school had closed just two days after the protests began because the situation had the potential to become extremely violent. "We sent the teachers home and said we would recompense them for their flights," he said.

But he added that much of the feared bloodshed had come to nothing in the Maadi area of Cairo.

"When they took the police off the streets, people worrying about law and order took to the streets with weapons to guard their neighbourhoods. This was alarming but turned out to be quite enjoyable," said Mr Flynn.

"There were people outside my apartment with machetes saying, `Don't worry, we are looking after you'."

He said a number of staff had since ventured into central Cairo out of curiosity.

"There were crowds of young people clearing the neighbourhoods, painting the curbstones. There's a real sense of a people taking responsibility for a new Egypt. You wouldn't have seen that sort of thing before," he said.

Libya: Factfile

  • Total population: 6,597,960
  • Average age: 24.5 years
  • Literacy rate for men: 92 per cent
  • Literacy rate for women: 72 per cent
  • Average age of leaving education: 17
  • Education expenditure: 2.7 per cent of GDP
    • Source: CIA Country Profiles.

      • Original headline: Libya staff in limbo as they await news of schools' fate

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