Regional conference promotes children’s rights and inclusive education
A three-day conference in Beirut attracts dozens of teachers and specialists to share ideas on inclusive education and diversity in childhood years.
During the opening ceremony, Dr. Renda Abu El-Haj, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Administration at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, in New Jersey, called on schools to take an inclusive approach to education.
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Educators and organization leaders from 18 countries assembled in Beirut from November 5-7 for a regional conference on “Inclusive Education and Diversity in Early Years” to advance the rights of children regardless of their backgrounds or disabilities.
Representatives of NGOs, schools, universities and ministries mostly from the Middle East, but also other countries such as the United States, Canada and the U.K., participated in the event, which was co-organized by the Early Childhood Care and Development Program at the Arab Resource Collective and LAU’s Department of Education at the School of Arts and Sciences.
“The objective of this conference is to spread [awareness] of the diversity of early stages of childhood … and to develop a strategy to support children in their own communities,” said Dr. Samir Jarar, chairman of ARC’s Board of Trustees.
“The starting point is with [recognizing] individual rights for all, but especially for children,” he added, before listing what he described as the four most essential rights: education, health care, freedom of speech, and protection.
The three-day conference included four plenary sessions, 19 concurrent sessions, 10 workshops, and one working group, which collectively amounted to 55 hours. It opened at LAU Beirut’s Irwin Hall and continued at the Holiday Inn Dunes Hotel.
The sessions hit on a variety of topics including children with physical and learning disabilities, child protection, discipline, and cases of Palestinian children in Lebanon’s refugee camps.
The participants also examined child sexual abuse in Lebanon, the inclusion and protection of Iraqi child refugees in Jordan, the marginalization of migrant children in Lebanon, children with Down syndrome in Lebanon, and the impact of conflict on Palestinian children.
Several speakers gave presentations at the opening ceremony including Dr. Jane Betts, senior disability adviser for the NGO World Vision U.K., who stressed the need to push governments to enforce international conventions that guarantee children’s rights to education regardless of disability or income.
In many cases, “children are facing extreme marginalization with no hope for reaching their full potential,” Betts said. “We must not let … the millions of children with disabilities down. We have the tools, and we must have the will, and we must be tireless in supporting parents and communities to include all children within early childhood care and development.”
Planning for the conference began about 18 months ago when ARC pitched the idea of collaborating on such an event to Dr. Ahmad Oueini, chair of the LAU education department.
Oueini and ARC had previously worked together on other workshops and projects including a successful program designed to train mothers in Lebanon’s disadvantaged regions to prepare their children for school.
Oueini said he hoped the conference would serve as a venue to exchange ideas, among other things.
“Networking is very important,” Oueini said. “[It’s about] meeting new people from all over the world, learning from their experiences, and gaining new ideas and resources.”