The question of education and the budget that our state allocates to the field of education has always been a topic of interest for many researchers and academics as there is no proper mechanism in place as far as the education system is concerned. We have three systems working parallel to each other, schools for the lower and middle class, the elite class English medium schools, and then we have Madrassahs for religious education. In the midst of all this, the challenges for both students and teachers are numerous, to an extent that often those students, with special needs are ignored and very little attention on their well-being and to facilitate in education. In the past seven decades, the state tried to develop several policies and initiatives focusing on the needs of differently-abled students and the challenges faced by special needs students in Pakistan. The policy development was started in 1985 and finally first National Policy for Disabled Persons was approved in 2002. A National Plan of Action (NPA) was presented in 2006 at the national level to truly implement and translate this policy into action. This policy provides a large range of services like education, assessment, medical care, rehabilitation, vocational training, employment, early intervention, research and development, funds donations, and designing parks, buildings, and other public places to meet the needs of special persons. Even with all these efforts and initiatives and even after the establishment of “the Department of Special Education” in Punjab, a province with 60% population of the country, there are some serious challenges that need our immediate attention. Lets have a look at some of those challenges and what can be done to solve them:
- Inadequate Infrastructures
One of the significant challenges that special needs students face in Pakistan is inadequate infrastructure. Most schools in Pakistan do not have the necessary facilities to accommodate special needs students. The majority of the schools lack wheelchair ramps, disabled-friendly washrooms, and lifts, among others. This makes it difficult for students with physical disabilities to move around and access essential facilities such as washrooms.
Furthermore, most schools do not have sensory rooms, therapy rooms, or specialized equipment that students with special needs require. This poses a significant challenge to special needs students as they cannot access essential services that facilitate their learning.
- Lack of Trained Professionals
Another significant challenge that special needs students face in Pakistan is the lack of trained professionals. The majority of teachers in Pakistan are not adequately trained to handle special ne,eds students. This makes it difficult for special needs students to access quality education as they do not have the necessary support.
Moreover, the shortage of professionals such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and psychologists, among others, also hinders the education of special, needs students. These professionals are critical in facilitating the learning of special needs students, but their shortage in Pakistan makes it challenging for special needs students to access their services.
- Social Stigma
Social stigma is another significant challenge that special needs students face in Pakistan. Many people in Pakistan view special needs students as a burden on society, and this hinders their access to education. Some parents of special needs students are afraid to send their children to school as they fear being stigmatized by society.
Additionally, teachers and school administrators may not be willing to accept special needs students into their schools, primarily because of social stigma. This means that special needs students are denied the opportunity to access quality education, which is their fundamental right.
- Inadequate Policy Framework
The policy framework that governs special needs education in Pakistan is also inadequate. The government has not put in place a comprehensive policy that addresses the challenges faced by special needs students. The current policy only provides guidelines on the integration of special needs students into the mainstream education system.
Furthermore, the government has not provided adequate resources to facilitate the implementation of the current policy. This means that schools lack the necessary resources to provide quality education to special needs students.
- Lack of Awareness
Another challenge that special needs students face is the lack of awareness about their needs. Many people in Pakistan are not aware of the needs of special needs students and the challenges they face. This lack of awareness can lead to misunderstanding and discrimination.
This lack of awareness also extends to policymakers and education authorities. Without a clear understanding of the needs of special needs students, it can be challenging to develop effective policies and programs that meet their needs.
The challenges faced by special needs students in Pakistan’s education system are numerous. The inadequate infrastructure, shortage of trained professionals, social stigma, and inadequate policy framework hinder their access to quality education. To address these challenges, the government needs to invest in special needs education by providing adequate resources to schools, training more professionals, and creating a comprehensive policy that addresses the needs of special needs students. Additionally, society needs to change its perception of special needs students and embrace them as valuable members of society who deserve equal access to education.