Special needs: Punjab’s free education law fails to facilitate disabled students

RAWALPINDI: The Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance 2014 falls short of elaborating measures that will be taken to facilitate special children in the province.

Section 3 (4) of the ordinance requires the government to provide suitable education to children with physical and mental disabilities. This provision makes it compulsory for the government to take special care of the children but it does not elaborate measures that should be taken under the ordinance.

Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) Programme Manager Raja Shoaib Akbar told The Express Tribune that CPDI had recommended that it should be made obligatory for all government and private schools to make buildings accessible to children using wheelchairs and those with other disabilities. He said it was recommended that a penalty also be imposed in case of violations of the law after three months of promulgation. He said that under the law, a stipend could also be fixed for each child attending these schools to increase enrollment.

Akbar informed that schools for special children were fewer in number and said they had recommended at least one well-equipped classroom for special children in each union council. He said they had also recommended a separate teacher for the special children in each school.

The CPDI official said the budget allocations for schools enrolling the special children should be doubled by the government for improving service delivery. He said special children also needed transport facilities to reach the school and the government should cover this cost too along with the proposed stipend.

Pakistan Disabled Foundation (PDF) Chairman Khalid Hussain said a lot was needed to be done for the education of special children. He said there was a need of more schools in the province with trained teachers to cater to needs of the disabled. He said an extensive awareness was needed to educate the larger public about problems faced by those with special needs.

Hussain said most people believe that those with special needs cannot achieve anything in life and thus require no education. He said this was a gross misconception as special persons could achieve whatever they want and the only thing they needed was the support of society and government. “The government should pay special focus on the education of the disabled,” he said.

PDF General Secretary Muhammad Shahid Rasheed said the number of schools for special children was not enough in the entire province.

He said disabled persons make 10 per cent of the total population while less than one per cent of them have access to education.

He said in most schools for special children, there was only one teacher for five classes. “How can a single teacher handle five classes at a time?, he asked, adding the teachers were trained in special education but they were not experts in all the subjects. He said subject specialists should be provided to special children’s schools to minimise workload on the special education teachers. Rasheed said there were around 100 special children schools in Punjab and more schools were needed to cater to the needs of the increasing number of special children.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2014.
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