Editor’s note: This article is part of an editorial package that includes another article “New Report Details Where Children Are Excluded From Education.”
Across the Middle East and North Africa region, millions of children and young adults are excluded from education due to gender, religion, sexual orientation, poverty, ability and other factors, says Unesco’s newly released 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report: Inclusion: All Means All.
For children with disabilities, the common practice across the region is to place them in separate institutions. The Unesco report shows that three out of 22 Arab countries have laws on the books that segregate children with disabilities. Placing children with special needs into regular classrooms is generally—though not always—recognized as an educational best practice.
Meanwhile, researchers say there is a split between policies and practice. For example, in Lebanon, a 2000 law giving those with disabilities the right to an education is being ignored, the report found. In practice, school admission is at the discretion of school officials, who can and do turn disabled children away. The children’s alternative is specialized institutions run by private organizations funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs, which the Ministry of Education and Higher Education may not recognize, the report noted.
“The principals have a lot of power,” said Hana Addam El-Ghali, director of the Education and Youth Policy Research Program at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
Parents might not be aware of all the rights they have, El-Ghali says, and will just accept it when a principal says there is no room for their child or asks for paperwork that actually isn’t required as a prerequisite to admission.
“The principals tend to complain (about) the centralized system in Lebanon, but in reality, the principals have a strong say in how the schools are run,” she added. “They are there on the ground, and they will make the decision of how these policies are implemented.”