Lebanon Schools: Braving the Brevet

A special needs student works on his Braille typewriter during official exams, Lebanon. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Zeinab Merhi

Published Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The end of the school year in Lebanon comes with an extra burden for certain students who have to pass a state exam to pass on to the next level. Then there special needs students who receive special accommodations, but teachers say more needs to be done at exam time.

The sound of Braille typewriters rises from one room. In the adjoining class, teachers gesture with sign language as they attempt to explain the questions to their group of pupils. They are among a total of 122 students taking their public intermediate school examinations, better known by their French name Brevet, at the Special Needs Center at Abdallah al-Alaili High School.

They include blind children, those with hearing impairments, as well as hemiplegics, dyslexics and diabetics. A boy suffering from autism sits all alone in a classroom working on his paper – he had insisted on that as a condition for sitting the exam.

“We responded to his request, as we do to the needs of all the pupils, so they can get through the exams as well as possible,” says Siham Tamrawi, the center’s director.

“We’ve put the ones with similar cases together in the same classrooms,” she explains. “There are diabetic children who need someone to stay by them and give them insulin injections when they need them. And we have 22 teachers assigned by the ministry to transcribe for students who are unable to write – they dictate their answers to them.”

While the center is a hive of activity within, it is almost deserted outside, untypically for official examination centers. The normal crowds of waiting parents are absent. The school takes charge of busing their children home.

At the entrance stands Abbas with his father. He does not need to use the bus, and shows no outward sign of being disabled. He agrees with most of the other pupils who took the geography and maths papers that they were “ok – on the easy side.” Asked why he sat the exams at the center, he replies: “I don’t know.” He ponders and adds: “They say I am over-active.”

Fatima and Maher had no problem with the exam either.

But the teachers have several complaints. Many within the center express dismay at what they say is the state’s neglect of the needs of hearing impaired children at exam time. Teachers have demanded the formation of a special committee to address their issues, and proposed a number of changes, such as the use of simpler language in exam papers, and a different marking system for arts and humanities subjects to take account of their restricted vocabulary.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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