The National Day for Students with Learning Difficulties is one of the most important days in LSESD’s calendar. A massive amount of preparation and organisation goes into it by SKILD Center, but every year the hard work is worth it.
The National Day is vitally important in getting across to teachers, parents, community leaders, government officers and the wider Lebanese public the issues children with learning difficulties face, and securing the help that can make learning easier for them. It is so rewarding when the message of creating a culture of respect for these children is understood and taken on board, and change begins to happen.
The most exciting development on the fourth National Day (22 April) since it began in 2013, was the announcement by Lebanon’s Minister of Education, Elias Bou Saab, that he plans to turn 60 public schools into inclusive schools.“I will be responsible for ensuring the funds and you are responsible for the success of this model of schools,” Mr Bou Saab said. “We must start with a project to upgrade the learning curriculum and modify it to conform with technological and electronic developments, so as to help students with learning disabilities to adapt.” This announcement was made during a breakfast gathering hosted by SKILD Center and its partners in launching and celebrating the National Day for Students with Learning Difficulties, namely the Ministry of Education, the British Council, and the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD). The Minister of Education made this commitment in front of an audience of around 150 participants among whom there were officials, educators, and civil society activists and experts in special education. He pushed them to get down to serious work and be up to the challenge!
One of the most high profile National Day events this year was the participation of SKILD Center and its partners in the Youth Marathon, organized by the Beirut Marathon Association. Over 1400 students from SKILD’s partner schools ran for children with learning difficulties on 10 April. It was a very important occasion reaching thousands of people in Lebanon, as the campaign was very vibrant on social media sites Twitter and Facebook. UNEP’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Arab Region Ragheb Alama, who is a Lebanese celebrity and has been ambassador for students with learning difficulties since 2013, tweeted his 4.9 million followers how ‘super excited’ he was to be supporting the SKILD Center and the Youth Marathon, and praised the decision to display the Start sign as STRAT as part of the awareness raising efforts, namely to ‘shed the light on dyslexia’.
Ragmeh Alama was not the only one posting on social media about the National Day. Many politicians and celebrities took part in a Facebook campaign in which they held up boards in English and Arabic showing their support of the SKILD Center as it raises the profile of students with learning difficulties through the National Day.
Another Lebanese celebrity, writer, director and actor, George Khabbaz, helped out at a National Day event on 16 April when he and Dr Dennis Eastman from Biola University in California addressed over 600 Grade 10 students from 13 partner schools in sessions around the theme “Social Inclusion of Special Needs Students is both a right and an obligation”.
As part of raising awareness and spreading the culture of supporting students with learning difficulties, there was also a conference on 21 April, again organised by SKILD, where experts taught education supervisors at the Ministry of Education how to train teachers to identify and assist children with special needs in the classroom.
The final National Day event, held on 23 April, was a training day for teachers from private schools organised by SKILD Center, the British Council and the Education Network. More than 300 teachers attended the sessions that were led by experts in special education from the USA and the UK including Drs. Dennis Eastman, Tonia Crane, David Finn and Ms. Marie Delaney. These academic partnerships have been made possible through the Consortium for Global Education’s ongoing support. The CGE, headed by Dr. Caroline Bishop, represents 42 accredited American Baptist colleges and universities dedicated to the furthering of international professional development in education.
One statistic that stood out from the National Day this year was that between 10% and 15% of children in Lebanon may potentially have a special learning need according to SKILD research. But possibly the most heart-breaking affirmation of the work that SKILD and that National Day is doing was a story that LSESD Executive Director, Dr Nabil Costa, shared in a National Day speech, of a Beirut mother whose children are no longer in school because of a lack of special needs provision. They say their only hope is to be able to emigrate from Lebanon so their boys, who both have ADHD, can get the education they need.” I am financially able to pay for proper education for my kids,” she wrote to Dr Costa. “Don't they have the right to learn?”
That every child in Lebanon should have the right to learn and to get the support they need to do so, is at the heart of the National Day. This mother’s story shows that although we have raised much awareness which is leading to action, there is so much more still to do.
Chris Hall | LSESD | April 2016
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