The Government of Pakistan aims to increase school enrolment over the years to enhance the literacy level and increase skilled workers. To benefit more children, especially girls, in schools, the Government has implemented social protection interventions which include free education mandates to all children aged 5 to 16, and a female-targeted cash transfer program.  Although there are campaigns of social protection programs to promote girls’ education as well as other marginalized population, there is another segment of society that is in dire need of awareness related to education: the cognitively and intellectually disabled children. Unfortunately, many disabled children in Pakistan endure barriers in education and accessing employment (Hussain et al. 2021), which in return exposes them to poverty and social exclusion.

 It is important to know the categories into which the cognitive and intellectual disability falls into blindness, dyslexia, autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, attention deficit disorder, and others.

Many mainstream educational institutions do not accommodate to the needs of disabled children, forcing many of them to drop out. Others do not get enrolled in a school, to begin with. Such impediments, in turn, deprive them of reaching their full potential, both as children and as adults later on.

 Although children with disability are disadvantaged and face discrimination in the formal education sector, the Government of Pakistan has implemented special programs to educate these children, such as the Punjab Special Education Program and Center for Autism Rehabilitation and Training (C-ARTS). 

 

The Punjab Special Education Program  

Since the creation of the Special Education Department by the Government of Punjab in 2003, the province has developed 288 institutions, including special education centers, primary and secondary schools, and vocational institutes across different parts of the province (Ali 2021; Government of the Punjab, n.d a). Since the program was implemented, there have been around 33,000 enrolments; however, it has been significantly higher among male students (Ali 2021) as opposed to their female counterparts.  

The Special Education Department provides the following benefits (Government of the Punjab, n.d b.; International the News, 2020; Dawn, 2020):  

  • Free education;
  • Free meal;
  • Textbooks and braille books;
  • Buses to pick up and drop off students;
  • Monthly stipend; and
  • Skill development and training courses

 

The Government of Punjab provides a monthly stipend of Rs 800 to the disabled students along with a health card to compensate for their medical expenses (Ali 2020). Along with providing textbooks and braille books to these students, the Government also has supplied books worth Rs 10 million to 147 special education institutes (Dawn, 2020; International the News, 2020).

The institutions provide both educational and rehabilitative services to the students. These rehabilitative services include physiotherapy, speech therapy, and play therapy (Student’s E-Café, 2020; Punjab Higher Education Commission, 2022). Forensic technology and information technology courses are some of the courses offered to these institutions in order to train these students on work-related skills (Dawn, 2020).

In 2019, the provincial government also implemented a Punjab Special Education Policy to increasing the number of special education institutions in the province. It also aimed at improving the identification of disabilities among children (Ali 2020). The policy classifies disability into four categories: mild; moderate, severe; and profound. Its goal is to integrate children with mild to moderate disabilities into the mainstream education system while providing specialized institutions for children with severe and profound disabilities (Government of the Punjab, n.d b.).

The Special Education Department has posted students’ success stories on their social media platforms. This in return can encourage more parents with special needs to enrol their children in these schools to prepare them to become productive members of society. Hopefully, other provinces can follow Punjab’s examples to give these children the opportunity to receive an education. 

 

Center for Autism Rehabilitation and Training (C-ART)

There are many people affected by Autism in Pakistan. Sadly, many of the affected children are never diagnosed due to a lack of awareness as well as the stigma attached to the condition, but the government and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are bringing hope to these children by establishing programs and specialized treatment centers.

An example is the Center for Autism Rehabilitation and Training (C-ART). According to an e-mail interview with the Chief Financial Officer at C-ART, the Government of Sindh established a large South-Asian public institution there, which is responsible for providing free-of-charge education to autistic children in Karachi and Hyderabad. It further plans to develop more institutions across the province. The Center of Autism Rehabilitation and Training (C-ART) provides the following services: behavioral therapy, special education services, speech therapy, occupational therapy and skill developmental programs (Pakistan Peoples Party-PPP, 2021). The institutions provide vocational training in order to give these children skills to enter the labour market. According to Pak Exclusive TV (2022), some parents reported their children were not able to talk prior to attending the school. However, after attending the institution, these children gained independent skills.

                                                                                   

Technological Intervention

Even though these programs are trying their best to make education available to children with disabilities, they are not well-equipped to serve the needs of the entire disabled population of the country. Most initiatives centered on special needs are located in urban areas, which causes accessibility issues for children who reside in rural or remote areas (UNDP, 2021). Regrettably, many children with disability in rural and remote regions of the country are deprived of getting an education due to the lack of facilities and programs.

With the advancement in technology, there is light at the end of the tunnel for these children. Technological intervention may be an effective strategy to support distant education among disabled children in remote regions. The laptop scheme can be one example of a successful initiative to educate children with special needs in rural areas. The Government and NGOs can distribute laptops to ease the process of online learning for these students.

Khan Academy, an American non-profit organization, has developed free-of-charge educational video tutorials and apps in the English language to help students around the globe learn different subjects at the primary and secondary levels. However, the online tool has some limitations as it only offers math at the primary level in the Urdu language. Unfortunately, primary school children cannot access Urdu materials in other subjects other than math. 

As many Pakistanis are not fluent in the English language, a similar app and online-video service in the Urdu language and other spoken languages in Pakistan will be beneficial for children with special needs. Digital technology platforms can cover primary and secondary level education in Urdu and other regional Pakistani languages for these children to allow them to learn per their speed and capability. 

 

Foresight: A Hope 

Although the country made progress over the years in implementing educational programs and services for disabled children, there continues to be a lack of awareness related to special education programs in the country. A lot of educators and school administrators are not trained to identify children with special needs, especially during the early years of education. Due to ignorance about special education, many teachers cannot advise parents on alternative approaches for these children. As a result, parents of disabled children end up feeling hopeless. 

Unfortunately, many people in the country are not aware of the special education programs offered in the country. Educators and healthcare providers need to be aware of the programs for children with special needs. As more teachers, physicians, and psychologists are aware of the different types of special education programs in Pakistan, they can advise parents of alternative options instead of leaving them in the dark. 

Giving disabled children the opportunity to gain access to learning materials and training will serve as a ray of hope for many of these parents. Through such initiatives, children with disabilities will gain confidence and feel empowered through education which will, in turn, increase their chances to find employment and higher earnings in the future rather than feeling hopeless in their own country.   

 

References

 

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
    • Social care services
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes / Productive inclusion
      • Job training
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disability
  • Education
Countries: 
  • Pakistan
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's