LAHORE: Speakers at a conference stressed the need for legislative, policy coverage, screening system in hospitals at district level, teachers training and a greater role of the Punjab School Education Department (SED) to encourage inclusive education in the province.
Experts gathered on Thursday under the banner of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aaghai (ITA) to discuss the state and future of inclusive education in Punjab. The seminar was titled ‘Prioritising Inclusive Education to Create and Promote Sustainable Futures for All: Evidence from Punjab’.
The panellists included Punjab Special Education Director Muhammad Fazil Cheema, Punjab Social Protection Authority (PSPA) General Manager (Operations) Shahida Farrukh, Punjab University Special Education Department Chairperson Humara Bano and Hamza Foundation Principal Mahrukh Akmal. ITA CEO Baela Raza Jamil was the moderator of the session.
Other participants included representatives of different non-governmental organisations (NGOs), social workers, educationists and public sector representatives.
Speaking about the initiatives of the SED, Cheema said the department had identified 800,000 children with disabilities in the province and set up 270 institutes at the tehsil level, where more than 31,000 children had been enrolled.
“In 2015, we started a project for inclusive education with four goals. First, we want to train teachers in the public sector. Next, we are providing aid devices to students who need them and we are also investing in infrastructure such as ramps and buildings to cater for children with disabilities. Last, but not the least, we are working on awareness,” he explained.
The goal of such projects, he said, was to integrate the education system and work towards inclusive education system. He said that the efforts of the government should be supplemented by various private organizations working for inclusive education.
About the initiatives of the PSPA, Shahida said the authority was prioritising rehabilitation through financial independence and education. “We initiated a programme to provide financial assistance to persons with disabilities through Khidmat Cards. Now, we are focusing on education. We have helped enrol more than 1,500 children with disabilities aged between five and 15 years,” she added.
Shahida suggested that diversity was needed to be inculcated at the school level, which was the ultimate aim of their projects that had been started with the collaboration of SED and other private sector stakeholders.
During the question and answer session, participants raised various issues for inclusive education. A participant asked whether the existing, already overburdened school education system, should take in children with special needs.
Others pointed out the social stigma attached with special people and how mindsets could be changed. The panellists said that awareness campaigns were needed to change the mindset whereas the resources used by different public sector programmes could be made more efficient if inclusive education was implemented.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2017.