Being Differently Abled Should Not Mean You Get Left Behind
Education that caters to the special needs of the differently abled is in a crippled state in Pakistan. People with disabilities are not supported with appropriate tools to identify and integrate them into mainstream society. However, with a Special Education Policy in the works, the Government of Punjab aims to move towards a more inclusive education system. The policy aims to categorize disabilities into four main groups which are mild, moderate, severe, and profound, and strengthen public policy regarding people with disabilities. However, the use of this new pedagogical approach is challenged by the existing stigma and taboo attached with ‘disability’ and this is aggravated with an inefficiency in recognizing and targeting those who suffer from it. Thus, it becomes challenging to create a feasible support system to assist those with disabilities in Pakistan.
Article 25A in the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees a right to education for all. However, focusing on the school level, there is still a sense of confusion regarding what it means to be inclusive. According to the National Education Policy of 2017 “Inclusive education is seen as a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures, and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education. It involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures, and strategies, with a common vision which covers all children of the appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children.” This concept of inclusion is valuable to all children, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, personality characteristics, or socio-economic status.
Nonetheless, children with disabilities are still 10 times less likely to attend schools compared to children their age who do not have disabilities. For those who attend mainstream schools, the dropout rates are much higher for those with disabilities. This perpetuates a never-ending cycle where lack of education increases the disadvantage that accompany a disability. This becomes another obstruction towards the rehabilitation of PWDs.
Moreover, the discrimination against those with disabilities manifests even more after school. With poor employment prospects and lack of government support, they lack the means to sustain themselves. Their distress was apparent in the protests in March 2020, at Mall Road, Lahore, where the visually impaired came out on the road to demand the Government to fill in the 8,000 vacant positions for the disabled in Punjab’s public sector alone. Thus, people with disabilities need to be integrated from the very beginning and the way they receive school-level education is crucial to this.
If we try to look at the way forward, The ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) model classifies disability as a three-fold issue based on an individual’s biological, psychological, and social condition, which helps to create nuanced insights regarding the instances of disability in Pakistan. Thus, when we are trying to construct policies or regulations to assist those that are differently abled, all 3 of these factors must be considered.