|Date: Apr 25, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|National Day for Students with Learning Difficulties|
|Dima El Hassan|
Sunday April 22, millions of people received a cellphone message from the Telecommunications Ministry announcing that it was the “National Day for Students with Learning Difficulties.”
A learning difficulty, also known as learning disability, is a serious and an ongoing problem in the acquisition of one or more areas in reading, spelling or math (reasoning). These difficulties may vary greatly between individuals and are known to be caused by a central nervous system dysfunction. Children with a learning difficulty encounter a low level of ability in one or more of these areas relative to their educational opportunities, age and other capacities.
According to the World Health Organization, learning difficulties are present in at least 10 percent of children and youth in the world, accounting for around 200 million people. Furthermore, 80 percent of those children and youth live in developing counties.
In Lebanon, there is ambiguity over the total number of children with difficulties. According to “Rights and Access,” the government agency concerned with registering persons with disabilities, “there are currently 8,558 children registered with a disability aged between 5 and 14” – the age of compulsory education in Lebanon. However, there are many others who are not registered and many more may not also have access to education.
UNICEF, WHO, and the World Bank estimate that at least 5 percent of children below the age of 14 have a disability, constituting around 45,000 children in Lebanon.
Under both Lebanese and international law, all children should have access to a quality education without discrimination. But in fact much more has to be done in order for these laws to be effectively implemented, along with the right to education for all.
Learning disabilities can present great challenges for the children concerned as well as for their parents. Many children with such disabilities do not attend school, limiting their chances for better education and future job opportunities. Even when allowed to attend, they are often not provided with an adequate quality education because of logistical, social and economic obstacles limiting their school experience.
Children with learning disabilities may not receive the help they need to succeed. As Carmen Chahine Debbane, president of CLES, the Lebanese Center for Special Education said, “They often occupy the back benches of the class, fail and repeat a grade until they end up, in some cases, in real social exclusion.”
However, according to WHO, awareness, early diagnosis and appropriate primary anticipation measures can prevent about 70 percent of childhood disability cases and help children affected by these disabilities.
Family and community awareness, early detection and treatment are key to helping improve the lives of many marginalized children who can learn and be successful if given the right attention.
Unfortunately, Lebanon still doesn’t have a unified strategy for special needs education. Nevertheless, inclusive education is paramount to social justice.
All educational institutions should embrace children with learning difficulties while referring them in parallel to specialized centers as CLES or SKILD, the Center for Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences.
Alongside, by taking practical steps to safeguard the rights of children with disabilities and making sure they have equal access to quality education in inclusive schools, the Lebanese government could radically boost the quality of life of many children with disabilities in Lebanon.
Promoting social justice begins with restoring the ethics of care, education and integration that give every being the right to fulfill his/her potential.
It is by inclusion that we enable understanding, empathy and tolerance, the basic qualities of a cohesive society.
Dima El Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]