Changing the rules of the game: a case study of stakeholder perceptions of the changing tertiary entry requirements in Lebanon

Sarwat Dabaga

EdD thesis, conferred 2015

The tertiary and secondary systems in Lebanon have traditionally been diverse, with differences between government and private systems and between the French-based secondary and a tertiary system largely established by Americans. Despite this complexity, tertiary entrance in Lebanon traditionally relied on the national Lebanese Baccalaureate. With increasing internationalisation and competition between universities, tests such as the international Baccalureate, IELTS and TOEFL and, more recently, the SAT, the academic literacy and writing used in the US, have also become requirements for different universities. The impact of this changing situation on schools, universities, teachers, students and their families has attracted little research attention, despite the implications for equity of access to tertiary education. Despite international evidence of the impact of tertiary entry requirements on secondary schooling and the problems emerging in the nexus between secondary and tertiary education, there is little research into this situation in the Arab world and Lebanon in particular.

This study investigates the impact of the changing tertiary entry requirements on key stakeholders in one secondary school. The case study approach enables the collection of in-depth qualitative interview data to explore the perceptions of English teachers (x3), school principal and executive (x2), curriculum designers (x2), university admission officers (x3) and present and former students (x27). Interview data were transcribed and coded and subjected to content and thematic analysis. The findings indicate a lack of alignment between school curriculum and preparation and tertiary requirements. Respondents questioned the relevance of the Lebanese Baccalaureate and the secondary school curriculum but also the appropriateness of the SAT. Attitudes to where responsibility lay for bridging the secondary/ tertiary gap varied between participants. There was evidence of increasing pressure on students, families and teachers to respond to the changes in tertiary entry. There was also a negativity from students about lack of support in preparation for tertiary entry tests. Interview data also indicated growing acceptance of a divided education system and issues in equity of access to tertiary education for students from mid- and lower-SES families.

Although this case is limited to one private school in the south of Lebanon, it raises issues which may have relevance across the complex Lebanese secondary and tertiary systems. The implications are that the gap emerging between secondary and tertiary education may be filled by ‘shadow education’, private coaching and by tertiary remediation courses. The issue of tertiary entry requirements for study is one of growing concern as the gap between secondary schooling and higher education grows.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Ken Cruickshank