In Lebanon and throughout the Middle East, children with physical or mental challenges are often marginalised. One third of Lebanese children are educated in state schools, where provision for special needs children doesn’t exist. And of the thousands of private schools that provide support for children with special needs, few of them do an adequate job.
Although the Government planned to undertake some pilot projects in public schools to address the needs of children with learning difficulties, very little has happened due to the pressures caused by the refugee crisis. In a country of 4 million Lebanese people, there’s estimated to be as many as 1.6 million Syrian refugees.
The Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), which aims to help children with mental and physical challenges that affect their learning. The work will be done through LSESD’s SKILD (Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences) division, which is highly respected by the government. They established a National Awareness Day in 2013, with British Council assistance and support of the Ministry of Education, which has become an annual event with dinners, publicity and a week of training events. SKILD believes that if it can show the effectiveness of interventions and training of state school teachers, it will be able to attract international governmental support for its work.
With our help, SKILD ran a two-year pilot project in two public schools – both of which have many Syrian refugees alongside Lebanese pupils. They conducted pupil assessments, coach existing staff, and create appropriate interventions, including one-to-one sessions. They empowered existing staff in the schools to learn approaches that are inclusive of special needs pupils alongside other students, rather than marginalising or excluding these pupils. The pilot projects demonstrated the value of such work.
The pilot has provided valuable lessons. Parents and teachers reported improvement in pupil performance. Teachers are now better at assessing and teaching children with learning difficulties. The SKILD team have been able to improve their teaching model. And will continue to lobby the Ministry of Education to implement a policy for 60 new special needs educators for public schools. Though this, the number of pupils not starting school, dropping out and not reaching their potential will be reduced. There will be less children marginalized, isolated and poorer because they could not access education, leading to improved health and wellbeing.
“We are grateful to MAI for coming alongside LSESD/SKILD on this highly worthy project and in such a timely fashion. Thank you!” (Dr.Alia Abboud, Director, Development and Partner Relations, LSESD)