An explicit definition of inclusive education has not been found. However, in May 2018 the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), with the support of UNICEF and a financial contribution from Canada, launched its inclusive education programme to develop inclusive education in Lebanon and ensure ‘quality education for all children’, including children with disabilities and learning difficulties.
Special education needs
An official definition of special education needs has not been found. However, in 2012 the MEHE launched an inclusion strategy, with contribution from the British Council, to develop inclusive education provision. In this regard, the British Council Lebanon states that ‘special educational needs can be used as a term for learners who need extra provision because they have abilities significantly ahead of their peers.’ A definition of learning difficulties is provided instead in the training module for teachers of the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) and in the various modules for specialized education.
Among the types of education provision, free private schools are set up to serve poor areas, with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the MEHE making funds available for students from poor households. Article 10 of the Constitution states that ‘The rights of communities to establish their own private schools cannot be violated, provided that they comply with the general requirements laid down by the State with respect to public education.’
Dedicated organizations are set up for the education of children with special needs. This is the case, for example, for the Lebanese Center for Special Education (CLES), which has been operating for 20 years. It provides learning support classes which it fully equips (with furniture, computer equipment, educational tools and specialized programmes) and which receive primary education students, in small numbers, in public schools spread throughout the six districts of Lebanon.
In collaboration with UNICEF, in 2018 the MEHE launched a pilot inclusive education programme in 30 public schools across Lebanon aiming to create a fair chance for all children, including children with disabilities. The project aimed to generate evidence-based data, as well as increase the awareness of families, caregivers, decision makers and community leaders about inclusive education rights, opportunities and the importance of school–family collaboration. In parallel, the MEHE worked to support the schools to integrate students with disabilities. This entailed training 24 staff members who would be qualified to deal with students with disabilities.
The Center for Educational Support Services for People with Learning Disabilities was established in 2014 under the minister of education and higher education. The centre provides several services, including therapeutic services for students of public and private schools nearly free of charge, interdisciplinary intervention to accommodate students with difficulties, individual plans and field information that guides teacher training based on the cases studied. Informed by the principle of equal education opportunities, the CERD seeks to generalize this experience and open similar centres spread across all regions.
Lebanon ratified the UN Convention Against Discrimination in Education in 1964 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. In parallel, the 2011 National Social Development Strategy aimed to promote social inclusion by increasing the sense of citizenship, belonging, civic participation and human partnership. It aimed to contribute to social cohesion and offer knowledge, values and skills needed to co-exist and function in a diverse society. The national strategy also prioritized offering a national basic education based on equal opportunity that is compulsory and available for all until age 15. Quality education is to be made available to all and is a right for all and offers a fair and equal opportunity for all to enrol and succeed, including those with special needs. Article 1 of Law No. 150 of 2011 states that education is compulsory at all levels of basic education and free in all government schools. It enshrines the right to education for all Lebanese citizens at the appropriate school age.
In the first half of 2018, the MEHE launched the 2018–22 national strategic framework for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) after several consultations led by the Government of Lebanon, with the support of UNICEF and the International Labour Organization. The consultations involved many stakeholders, including MEHE, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the National Employment Office, the National Vocational Training Centre, private sector representatives and non-government organizations.
Lebanon signed in 2007 but has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Law No. 243 of 1993 is the main document protecting and promoting the interests and rights of persons with disabilities.
With support from the CERD, UNESCO and other international organizations, Law No. 220 of 2000 was adopted to reinforce rights for people with disabilities on social, education and health levels. It mostly focuses on individuals with physical disabilities, not covering people with other types of special needs, such as gifted children, dropouts, marginalized people, street children and the mentally disabled. A national strategy for inclusive education was expected to be developed as of 2019.
Lebanon ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1997. However, it has maintained several reservations, including on Article 16.1 (c) (d) (f) and (g) providing for equal rights in marriage and family life, which, according to the CEDAW Committee, ‘whether lodged for national, traditional, religious or cultural reasons, are incompatible with the Convention and therefore impermissible’.
In nursery schools, the teaching of Arabic or any other language is not compulsory. Sometimes Lebanese Arabic is taught, sometimes classical Arabic or French and/or English in private schools. In all primary schools, the teaching of written (classical) Arabic remains compulsory, with an average time commitment of seven hours per week. Lebanese and non-Lebanese pupils who arrive at an education institution during their schooling benefit from an adaptation: They can receive instruction in their mother tongue – usually dialectal Arabic – up to the third grade.
A multi-year project led by UNESCO funded by the Saudi Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz Al-Saud Foundation aimed to assess current status and help countries exchange experiences regarding successful inclusion of vulnerable groups, including marginalized groups and students in conflict areas. In 2011, the Lebanese government adopted a programme to reduce early dropouts by providing financial support to families.
As part of the Reaching All Children with Education (RACE II) programme, every day at school, around 24,000 Lebanese and non-Lebanese children receive healthy snacks to prevent short-term hunger, improve dietary diversity and create a positive school environment to encourage disadvantaged children to remain in school.
As another example of implemented policies, in 2018 the MEHE supported the enrolment of 213,358 refugee children and 209,409 vulnerable Lebanese children in public schools.
Refugees and displaced students
Lebanon has not ratified the UN Convention and Protocol relating to the status of refugees. The MEHE carried out a three-year programme starting in 2014 entitled Reaching All Children with Education (RACE, or RACE I) whose main objective was to serve vulnerable school-aged children (ages 3–18) affected by the Syrian crisis to enable their access to quality formal and non-formal learning and offer them education opportunities in safe and protective environments. The programme targeted an average of 413,000 Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese school-aged children per year in different areas including ensuring equitable access to education opportunities; improving the quality of teaching and learning; and strengthening national education systems, policies and monitoring. Systematic efforts were made to reach children and families in the most vulnerable districts of Lebanon, including through the Back-To-School campaign and by offering financial support to cover the cost of education and make schooling more attractive. For example, around 20,000 refugee children also received a top-up amount to make education attractive for the most disadvantaged families.
Over 470,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon. About 45% of them live in the country’s 12 refugee camps. As no law determines the right to education of the Palestinian students in Lebanon, circulars issued each year by the minister of education and higher education set out conditions and order for enrolment in basic education. For example, circular 25/M/2014 mentioned ‘Palestinian students who have been residing in Lebanon for over three years ... Old and new students to whom there isn’t any available UNRWA school within their residency area’. The Back-To-School campaign has enabled 36,960 Palestinian children to enrol for free in 65 UNRWA-run schools and to benefit from school transportation, uniforms and stationery.
According to UNHCR, there are 488,832 registered non-Lebanese children aged 3 to 18 years old residing in Lebanon. Of the non-Lebanese population, 99% is Syrian. Around 50% of the non-Lebanese students are enrolled in formal education; 202,259 have been accommodated by the MEHE in its public schools and about 40,000 in the private and subsidized schools. The MEHE opened 313 public schools for the 2016/17 school year to operate in the afternoon as second-shift schools. This type of education provision accommodates 65% of the students enrolled in public schools.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Health and the MEHE are working together on children's issues and on how to implement international agreements linked to disabilities and education. There is also an ongoing collaboration between social centres of the Ministry of Social Affairs and with family committees to assess levels of learning difficulties. The CERD created a committee for students with special needs, including experts from non-government agencies, civil society organizations and governmental agencies, to create a national strategy for inclusive education.
The United Nations and the MEHE work together on the RACE II programme to increase access to learning opportunities for Lebanese and non-Lebanese vulnerable young people. As a result of the programme, around 770 students received scholarships enabling them to pursue academic careers at Lebanese universities. Over 14,100 young people and adolescents benefited from TVET and other non-formal courses. Assistance included partially or fully subsidized school fees and other education-related costs, such as transportation. Moreover, the quality of training improved, new courses on business and entrepreneurship were introduced, and complementary services were established to assist young people entering the job market. In addition to enrolling children in school, efforts to keep them in school are essential.
In collaboration with the government and partners, UNICEF also provides services and assistance to children, including providing quality learning opportunities for children, adolescents and youth; evidence generation; and humanitarian cash-based programming. For the 2016/17 school year, out of 399,000 Lebanese and non-Lebanese children enrolled in formal public schools, UNICEF supported 236,000 children (50% girls, 50% boys). In addition, UNICEF Lebanon expanded its adolescent and youth program in 2017. A total of 3,043 marginalized Lebanese and non-Lebanese youth (831 Lebanese and 2,212 Syrians) were supported for enrolment in the MEHE’s TVET schools. In total, 22,600 vulnerable youth (13,672 girls, 8,928 boys) received non-formal vocational, innovative skill-building, or entrepreneurship and employability competency-based skills training.
The CERD has also organized several workshops around the development of the curriculum. The second, held in 2015, addressed among its themes the characteristics of the curriculum for special needs. Further developments are ongoing according to a specific calendar. Since a workshop in January 2019, the UNESCO Beirut office has also been working closely with the CERD on the idea of developing a Lebanese Curriculum Framework as a main reference document for quality curriculum review and implementation in the country.
The MEHE-affiliated CERD aims to provide ongoing training of educators to achieve ‘education for all’. The Centre offers ongoing training to teachers on psychotherapy, speech therapy and special needs in collaboration with French experts. The efforts include training of trainers on learning strategies for students with learning difficulties, on diagnosis and needs assessment, and on supporting families for early detection of their children’s learning difficulties. In its programme, CERD points out the importance of inclusion in schools ‘to ensure learning for all learners’.
In 2018–19, over 10,000 teachers were trained on a UNICEF-led national teacher training model to enhance their capacity to integrate the principles of gender equity, child protection, and linguistic and cultural diversity in their teaching and interaction with children. According to the British Council, 800 teachers and schoolchildren benefited from a week-long series of workshops and trainings and a one-day conference as part of the British Council’s commitment to raising awareness of special education needs. This was organized in collaboration with the MEHE, CERD and Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences (SKILD) to ensure that the agenda of special education needs was being highlighted and addressed.
No information has been found on a monitoring system on inclusion in education.