Nayla Khoury Daoun
Beirut Annunciation Orthodox College
The Holidays period is a good time to count our blessings. As I was pondering on how to start my testimony for this blog, I wondered what it would have been like to go through my journey as a school Principal without the opportunity to manage an inclusive school.
I realized what a true blessing it was to have encountered, around 20 years ago, talented and professional educators who introduced me to this approach. It helped me change my whole perspective of the teaching-learning process and forced me to put in practice our school philosophy based on the “uniqueness” of each child, created at the image of God and in His resemblance.
I learned to value more talents and skills, to assess performances in a more holistic manner, to question more our approaches and our methods as educators. Finding the right approach, and creating the proper learning environment for every child, is a continuous quest that keeps us alert and reflecting all the time.
However, the path is not without challenges, and, after 20 years of learning, of successes and failures, I cannot say that we achieved true and complete inclusion. The challenges I face, as a school Principal, are mainly on two levels:
The Social Level: How many times did I hear parents complain “why is this child in the school? Can’t you see that he should not be with other children?”, and other parents sadly report “none of my child classmates came to his birthday…”. As much as we have accomplished on the organizational and academic levels, devising adapted curricula and assessments, creating activities, supporting teachers and helping them integrate children who face learning disabilities and special needs in regular classes, we are still far from a fully inclusive environment. We are still working on spreading awareness, creating safe environments that foster true social inclusion.
The strategic level: In the absence of a set framework for Lebanese Inclusive schools, each school has created its own policies and approaches and has evolved throughout the years according to the needs observed and based on experience. Yet, we are constantly questioning whether our school environment is the right one for a given learner and if she or he should be accepted and/or remain in our school; or would benefit more in a different or more specialized setting. There are no right answers, nor clear-cut criteria.
I will not dwell on the financial level, though it is becoming quite critical for both the parents and the schools, because it is obvious for all, but more specifically because the actual need is on the strategic and policies level. A lot of work was done in the previous years to create awareness and to develop a national policy for inclusion, which was launched in June 2023. However, all this work needs to be reflected in executive decisions and implementation plans and become more generalized.
In the meantime, we cannot but count our blessings and be thankful for the many private initiatives, which have hugely contributed to the advancement of the cause of the learners with learning disabilities and those with special needs.
Our schools, the Beirut Orthodox Schools, have all become inclusive environments with a proportion varying from 8 to 20 percent in one of our schools of learners with special needs.
Despite the successive confinement periods and the terrible impact of the double blast of August 4th, 2020 on our schools, we have continued to develop our inclusive approach because we believe that it will keep us on track towards the achievement of our mission.
Finding the right approach, and creating the proper learning environment for every child, is a continuous quest that keeps us alert and reflecting all the time.
I cannot conclude without thanking SKILD, its founder Dr. Nabil Costa and its director Ms. Hiba Al-Jamal for inviting me to contribute to this blog and for being true advocates of the cause of children with special needs on the national level.
All these private initiatives and efforts constitute a good base to move forward to a more inclusive nation and society. We will continue to advocate for this, not matter what are the challenges.