Under the high patronage of the Lebanese Minister of Education and Higher Education, H.E. Dr. Marwan Hamade, the Education Department at Haigazian University organized a seminar entitled, “Special Education in Lebanon: The Status of Inclusive Education”, which took place on Tuesday the 23rd of January, 2018, from 4:30 to 7:00 pm in the University Auditorium. The capacity audience included school teachers and administrators, NGO representatives, specialists in the field, researchers, academicians and students.
The seminar, which was divided into two panels, the first focusing on the academic nature of the topic, and the second on the needs and challenges of practitioners, provided the most adequate platform for researchers and practitioners to reflect on the challenges of inclusive education in Lebanon and hence, propose recommendations. Both panels were moderated by Ms. Shaghig Hudaverdian, Instructor of Education at Haigazian University.
The seminar opened with the welcoming words of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Dr. Arda Ekmekji, who introduced the topic of inclusion as a “dynamic process that needs to be worked upon continuously”. Ekmekji shared with the audience the vocation of Haigazian University ever since its founding in 1955. “Today after almost 63 years of service, our heart still remains very much in the Education major with its vocation in preparing qualified educators for the region,” Ekmekji noted.
Advisor of the Minister of Education, Dr. Nader Hudayfeh, expressed Minister Hamade’s close involvement and interest in the issue of inclusive education in private and public Lebanese schools, as the case presents a high priority to him. Hudayfeh conveyed that although the Ministry has engaged itself into the adoption and implementation of inclusive education, the difficulties and challenges remain very high. In this respect, he called upon the ultimate collaboration between the Ministry, schools, and specialized NGOs towards a successful inclusion program, curricula, preparation of teachers and raising of funds. He concluded that all these points will be raised on the National Day of Children with Special Needs, to be celebrated on April 22nd.
Participants at the first panel presented an academic overview of inclusive education in Lebanon.
Dr. Farah El Zein, Assistant Professor of Special Education at Haigazian University, presented the status of inclusive education in Lebanon. Her discussion covered the needs, requirements and practices of inclusive education in Lebanese schools. El Zein put significant importance on the increasing awareness towards developing a further positive attitude and culture towards children with exceptionalities.
Dr. Leila Akoury Dirani, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Child Protection Program at the American University of Beirut, shared the historical developments of inclusive education in Lebanon. With a quick overview from the late 80’s, when the first program of integration of children with disabilities was introduced, to the restructuration of the educational system effected by the Ministry of Education in the 90’s, as well as the private initiatives coming from a select number of private schools in Lebanon, Dirani concluded that currently all stakeholders (Ministry of Education, Schools, NGOs) are cooperating towards a better inclusion program.
Ms. Nahla Harb, from the Counseling and Guidance Department at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, shared the efforts and initiatives of the Ministry in collaborating with numerous national and international NGO’s towards the better implementation of the inclusion program in private and public schools.
The first panel was concluded with Ms. Rita Merhej, Lecturer of Education and Psychology at Haigazian University, who presented the Bachelor’s program of Special Education at Haigazian as a case study. Merhej highlighted the importance of the full-fledged degree program that prepares and equips students to become professional teachers, expert trainers, researchers and advocates of special education.
Four participants partook in the second panel, addressing the practitioners’ needs and challenges vis a vis inclusive education.
Dr. Nabil Costa, CEO of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, Founder of Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences, and the General Secretary of the Association of the Evangelical Schools in Lebanon, expressed his appreciation of the Ministry of Education’s efforts to launch inclusive initiatives in several public schools. He further stressed on the importance of mobilizing awareness about inclusive education at the community level and called for more parent empowerment, more effective advocacy initiatives and more engagement from the media.
For her part, Ms. Tassoula Bassous, Co-Founder of LEAPS and Special Education Consultant, presented the Multi-Tier System of Support (MTSS) as a potential model for inclusive education in schools, which consolidates the collaboration between the regular teacher and the special educator in the classroom. Bassous stressed on the high quality instruction in inclusive education, as well as on the importance of providing school teachers with evidence-based teaching approaches and strategies.
Ms. Hiba Abu Alfa Wehbe gave a brief historical overview of the inclusive initiative at the Rafic Hariri High School (Saida) where she serves as its principal, emphasizing on the need for qualified teachers, as well as the need of change of the cultural mindset with respect to inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
Ms. Azza Choueiky El Hafi, Coordinator of Special Education at Saint Mary’s Orthodox College, explained the challenges encountered at her school with regards to the implementation of inclusive education, namely the absence of a unified training background of incoming special educators. El Hafi called for a more standardized type of training in special education from universities, leading to a more collaborative spirit, thus overcoming scattered and isolated initiatives.
A rich interactive session of Q&A followed, allowing the audience to raise their thoughts and questions regarding the topic.
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