MAI’s Board has agreed a new two year Partnership Project in Lebanon with the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD). It aims to help children with mental and physical challenges that adversely affect their learning. This follows an evaluation visit by John Earwicker to the Centre established by LSESD in their SKILD division which stands for Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences! On March 9, MAI agreed to proceed with the Partnership.

In Lebanon and throughout the Middle East, children with physical or mental challenges are often marginalised. SKILD has established a highly respected reputation and has a sizable staff offering private support to parents and children with these issues. However, in a country where only one third of children are educated in state schools, provision for special needs children is non-existent and few of the thousands of private schools do an adequate job in this regard.

Although the Government has planned to undertake some pilot projects in public schools to address the needs of children with learning difficulties, very little has occurred due to the overwhelming pressures caused by the refugee crisis. In a country of 4 million Lebanese, there may be as many as 1.6 million Syrian refugees.

Hence, SKILD have developed this project proposal to undertake a two year pilot project in two public schools – both of which have significant Syrian refugees alongside Lebanese pupils. SKILD plan to undertake pupil assessments, coach existing staff and create appropriate interventions, including one to one sessions. The aim will be to empower existing staff in the schools to learn approaches that will be inclusive for special needs pupils alongside their peers rather than their present experience of being marginalised and excluded. It is anticipated that these pilot projects will demonstrate the value of such work and leverage funding from strategic donors within and beyond country.

SKILD is highly respected by the Government as shown by their success in establishing – with British Council assistance and support of the Ministry of Education – a National Awareness Day in 2013 which has become an annual event with dinners, publicity and a week of training events. SKILD believe that if they could demonstrate the effectiveness of interventions and training of state school teachers, they would be able to attract international governmental support for their work.

This project is a challenge to MAI; it is part of the world and with a focus that is new to MAI. At the same time, there is no doubt that there is a great opportunity not only to change the lives of disadvantaged children but to leverage support for a fantastic organisation sharing our Christian values. Work in the two pilot schools is planned to begin in September at the start of the academic year. This gives some time for MAI to raise the significant annual cost for the project and recruit suitable advisors with specialist skills in working with children with learning differences.