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Lebanese pupils protest against ‘outdated’ curriculum

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By Agence France-Presse 

Several hundred school pupils protested Thursday in Lebanon against what they described as an outdated curriculum that makes no mention of the multi-confessional country’s 15-year civil war.

At the heart of Lebanon's one-month-old protests, a young generation of activists is coming of age and demanding a country in which they can see themselves thriving and growing old (AFP Photo/ANWAR AMRO / MANILA BULLETIN)

At the heart of Lebanon’s one-month-old protests, a young generation of activists is coming of age and demanding a country in which they can see themselves thriving and growing old (AFP Photo/ANWAR AMRO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The protest outside the education ministry in Beirut was the latest in a nationwide anti-government street movement to have gripped Lebanon since October 17.

“Our history books need to be thrown out,” 16-year-old Jana Jezzine said as around her protesters waved the national flag and one woman made a show of burning a schoolbook.

History lessons in school textbooks stop with the withdrawal of French troops in 1946 — three years after the end of France’s 23-year mandate over Lebanon.

But a lack of consensus over a common version of the 1975-1990 civil war has led to it being completely omitted from the curriculum.

Likewise, textbooks make no mention of key events afterwards, such as the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon in 2000 or the mass protests that ended Syria’s military presence in 2005.

Eighteen-year-old Aya Haider said she had endlessly studied the First and Second World Wars, but had been taught almost nothing of her country’s recent history.

“I know nothing about the civil war,” she told AFP, in a country where each religious community has its own version of historical events.

“My parents and friends told me that people would get stopped because of their identity cards,” she said, referring to militiamen singling out members of certain religious sects at checkpoints during the conflict.

The rest, she says, she learned in dribs and drabs through acquaintances during the recent anti-graft protests.

Since last month, Lebanese from all religious backgrounds have taken to the streets en masse to cry out against what they view as an incompetent and corrupt ruling class, forcing the government to resign.

School pupils and university students have emerged as a leading force during recent demonstrations, saying they will gladly lose a year’s schooling to help rebuild their country.

On Thursday night President Michel Aoun said in a speech to mark Lebanon’s 76th Independence Day the protests had broken some “taboos” and spurred the judiciary to act against corruption.

Speaking on the eve of the anniversary, Aoun said the formation of a new government had been delayed because of “political contradictions” governing Lebanese politics.

Under Lebanon’s constitution, the president must launch parliamentary consultations to name a new premier, but no date for such talks has been announced.

Forming a government in Lebanon typically takes months, with protracted debate on how best to maintain a fragile balance between the various religious communities.

Protesters are demanding a new government of technocrats not affiliated to traditional political parties.

Lebanon’s economy is under severe strain after a series of political crises compounded by the eight-year war in neighboring Syria, and youth unemployment stands at more than 30 percent.

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