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The failed state and the room it creates for children in education

The idea of a failed state, and of Pakistan always being labelled as one is an intriguing conversation. It essentially rests on the idea of labeling countries experiencing conflict and severe poverty as ‘fragile’. Historically, we learnt that the ‘collapsing’ of a state was transmitted in the opposite direction – it was initially adopted and actively promoted by a small group of government agencies representing powerful states, before being disseminated among international organizations and gradually extended to wider audiences, including developing countries and non-state actors e.g., the transgender bill under debate.

Out of the plethora of factors including our current account deficit, political instability and poor law enforcement, we must be cognizant of how the constitution of Pakistan explicitly declares in article 25A that every citizen has a right to free and quality education till the age of sixteen years. 42 percent of people are illiterate, and 2.2 million children were out of school prior to the floods. In remote areas of Sindh, Balochistan and KPK educational infrastructure exists only on paper. The crux of our entire course content has been resting on this very notion so it’s imperative to have this as a prompt for conversation.

It’s imperative to observe the granting of rights to all 5-16 year olds is despite of any disabilities they might have. This calls for a close discussion of how some disabilities are easy to identify e.g., physical, but others require long hard and detailed diagnostics. Connecting back to our course content, we concluded that the earlier you intervene, you'll have a larger potential to work with.

In the Pakistani context, we have two factors to look at:

a. Larger proportion of births not taking place in hospitals or by trained people

b. Even if they are, it's difficult to raise red flags, since several disabilities aren’t apparent at the start e.g., speech delay – for which we don’t have all the diagnostic tests (private are more expensive) and a sheer lack of access.

For disabilities of sight and hearing impairment, they are much more crucial in initial years because of language acquisition. The learning and teaching of sign language is hence also delayed so conceptual development is hindered as well. To contextualize, the access issues can be understood from the fact that we have a sheer absence of any master’s programs for the hearing impaired, there is complete isolation even within LUMS. For physical disabilities in the context of Pakistan especially we have quotas in government college (we don’t have any such systems in LUMS) because not having that quota can be exclusionary. In terms of cognitive disabilities, notions that need to be questioned are the notions of merit in terms of how there should be different mechanisms for assessing individuals in standardized tests.

The exclusionary culture we as a society have created – we have internalized the discrimination to the extent that people are ashamed of owning up to the child with disabilities; disability in Pakistan is invisible. The absence of recognition leads to an absence of any arrangements made, which leads to extreme unfairness, cruelty, and lack of access. In terms of what’s socially acceptable, even our acceptance is sometimes discriminatory.

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