The fact remains clear worldwide that education fosters better economic opportunity. Inclusive education has become an important global poverty issue for this reason. Yet, Lebanon still struggles to provide a proper education for disabled children. This can potentially leave handicapped individuals at a disadvantage when compared to their peers.
Lebanese schools often decline disabled children due to discrimination and inadequate accommodations. When these children can attend school, they struggle with a lack of specialized care. They find that no individualized lesson plans exist for them and teachers have no special training. Most schools even lack the appropriate architecture for wheelchair access.
The burden of these shortcomings often falls on the parents. They may pay high traveling fees as a handicap-friendly school can often lie miles away from home of the children. Other schools might charge the parents for a specialized tutor. If the parents cannot pay these costs, their child can end up without an education at all.
This trend has led to some disturbing statistics in education for disabled children. The Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union (LPHU) conducted a study in 2014 from a sampling of disabled individuals. They discovered that 54% of these individuals had only received a primary level of education. Of this 54%, 24% still reported having issues with illiteracy.
Issues such as these persist despite Lebanon law requiring non-discriminatory education for disabled children. Law 220, created in 2000, ensures this right for all disabled individuals. Yet, fifteen years later, only five public schools had built the modifications to allow wheelchair access.
Residential facilities for those with disabilities seems the best this law can provide. Yet, many question the quality of the education received. Many children come out of these facilities still illiterate or even without finishing school. These facilities have also reported dangers such as child and adult residents residing together.
The main issue, it seems, resides in enforcing and implementing Law 220. Human Rights Watch (HRW) suggests that the Lebanon government must change its policies. It advises them to “develop guidelines and standards on inclusive classrooms” and “revise the teacher training materials”. Along with this, the government must “strengthen and regulate the monitoring of schools”.
To its credit, the government has noticed the issue and has taken measures to fix it. HRW reports that the education sector, the Ministry of Education and High Education (MEHE), has plans for a 2018 pilot program. Under this program, children with learning disabilities will be integrated into 30 schools. Six schools will enroll children who have “visual, hearing, physical, and moderate intellectual disabilities”.
Private organizations and UNICEF have also made efforts to build accessibility modifications to school facilities. Others pay for specialized teachers and materials for those with visual impairments so they may attend school. Lebanese teachers themselves are also fighting to develop a strategy that will improve inclusion.
The UN estimated that in 2001, 10% of the population in Lebanon has a disability. At a current population of 6,094,089, this means that over 600,000 individuals might face difficulties with education access in Lebanon. As the population of Lebanon has grown since then, this number has increased.
Over 600,000 individuals can remain trapped in cycles of poverty due to something they have no control over. This does not seem fair and many organizations, including the government, agree. Hopefully, this assessment will give the Lebanese government and other organizations the incentive to keep fighting for a fully inclusive education.
–Elizabeth A. Frerking