The blog emphasizes the need of introducing inclusive education in the country and efforts made to make it a part of mainstream education.
Inclusive education allows students with special needs to be placed and receive instruction in the mainstream classes being taught by mainstream teachers. It actively recognizes those hurdles and obstacles that children with special needs encounter in trying to access opportunities for quality education. This approach of removing obstacles leads to inclusive society where every human being has the right to have access to every opportunity.
Article-25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees free and compulsory education to all children from five to sixteen years of age in a manner as determined by law. The federal government including provincial governments of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan have already passed the Bills on Right to Education. Unfortunately, the education statistics of Pakistan are not encouraging for all children. The regular government school system in Pakistan runs independently and the same can be said for special school system. Such segregation is visible in schools operated by the private sector. The teaching methodology improving the learning ability of the child is outdated. The system does not allow the child to participate in creative ability nor does it promote critical thinking. All students are expected to ‘obey’ teachers.
Unfortunately, inclusive schools which are promoting good practices in Pakistan are limited to main cities only. Such education is not accessible to special children in remote areas; even their education facilities are inadequate and parents are unwilling to send their challenged children to school, as they fear that they will be stigmatized or will lag behind in class. Even the school staff do not admit a child with moderate disability.
If we glance at history, we will come to know that special needs education has been in the hands of religious institutions. At the time of independence, only few schools provided education to children and adults with special needs. Then, private education institutions started delivering inclusive education. The Education Policy of 1972 provided funds for special education. In the 1980s and 1990s, the UN asked member states to pay particular attention to the problems of people with disabilities. During this period, the Government of Pakistan significantly increased the budget allocation to newly established special education centers and other institutions for the education and rehabilitation of children with disabilities. Government initiatives resulted in more than 200 special education institutions with more than 20,000 enrollments.
If we look at the general scenario, we can see that the attitude of society towards people with inclusive needs have been generally positive. It is more favorable in rural areas than in urban areas. However, people are not educated about the capability of the disabled and lack of education further escalates the problem. A survey of the prevalence of special needs children sponsored by the WHO in 1985 indicated that 10 per cent of the population had some sort of disability, such as emotional disability, visual impairment, hearing impairment, mental retardation, physical disability, learning disability or multiple disability. Of these, only two per cent had access to institutional facilities (Shahzadi, 2000).
Hayat (1994) found that most children who have disabilities were eager to attend ordinary schools as they found it pleasant to study and play with other children. They believed that this would improve their academic achievement and remove the stigma associated with disability. However, they feared that they might be teased or not be able to keep up with the class. Batool and Mehmood (2000) found that children with visual disability expressed similar views. In a study on problems faced by children with physical disabilities in ordinary educational institutions, Noor and Khokhar (2002) concluded that these children were satisfied with the positive attitude of administrators, the efforts of their teachers to solve their problems, and their level of participation in classroom discussion. However, they faced difficulties in commuting to school, and moving with ease in school buildings.
There is a dire need to formulate a policy on inclusive education to establish the system in the country. The government has to realize that an inclusive education system benefits children from all groups of society, not children with special needs. We need to recognize the fact that children play and learn in different manner and at their own pace. All the professionals and disability rights organizations mutually agree that inclusive education in mainstream schooling is the right way to educate all children. By promoting inclusive education, we mean that support services will be brought to the child. Students, parents and teachers have to ‘accept’ the child rather than forcing the child to ‘change.’ So it is important to create a supportive learning environment which responds to the needs and demands of every child including those with special needs.