A Roundtable, titled "Prioritizing Inclusive Education to Create and Promote Sustainable Futures for All- Evidence from Punjab" was held on 9th February 2017 organized jointly by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi and ASER Pakistan Teams, supported by the Foundation of Society Institute. The panel was chaired by Mr. Muhammad Fazil Cheema- Director, Punjab Special Education Department, and panellists included Ms. Hina Ahsan-Deputy Director PEF, Ms. Shahida- GM Operations PSPA, Dr. Humaira Bano- Chairman Special Education Department, PU, and Ms. Mahrukh- Principal Hamza Foundation Academy for Deaf.
The roundtable discussion was held with the aim to leave no one behind permeates the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. ASER Pakistan took the initiative in 2015 to capture data on the status of disability prevalence in 36 districts of Punjab. The SDG agenda focuses on disability and target 4.5 specifically commits all countries to ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training, regardless of disability status. Alongside the international commitments, at the national Level, under Article 25-A, Pakistan has promised to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 5-16 years. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2011, the provincial governments have been empowered to take further initiatives for the realization of the rights of disabled people. At the national level 55.9% of Persons with Disabilities live in Punjab and 28.4% in Sindh.
Under the rules made for the right to free and compulsory education act, the government of Punjab has taken ownership of the responsibility to provide suitable education to a child suffering from disability or a special child and ensure the establishment of schools such that supports school attendance of a disadvantaged child. The roundtable brought together policy makers, academics and practitioners working across research institutes, local government, right activists, NGOs.The policy dialogue served as an urgent call to action. To identify what future investment efforts needed to be made some ardent recommendations were taken for the way forward for the sustainable futures for all.
Mr. Fazil Cheema while chairing the discussion highlighted the achievements of the department that isserving as an agent of change to the educational needs of about 31,000 children with special needs in its 270 institutions across the province, whereas the private sector is making provisions for the needs of more than 15,000 children. In addition, the department is has launched the Inclusive Education Project in 2015 with the aspiration of the public sector teachers’ training, the endowment of the aid devices to the special students, although the project also invested in the infrastructure such as special persons’ friendly buildings and ramps.
The panel discussion turned up some imperative recommendations to support the plan of action to achieve inclusive education, besides legislative ad policy coverage, screening of children in hospitals and teachers’ trainings is crucial to encourage inclusive education in the province. As per the previous progressive endeavors which are below the line there is a need to initiate a substantial movement for some 800,000 children with special needs to acquire education across Punjab. Directorate of Staff Development and Special Education Department and other stakeholder(s) must be brought on board to evaluate absent plan of action for inclusive education. The accessibility of Government departments needed to be ensured as per the ordinance of the provincial and national assemblies. Technology enabled solutions are needed for visually impaired persons and other disabilities in every sphere of life especially in the education sector.There must be a system to evaluate the competencies level and learning outcomes of persons with disabilities rather than conventional examination system.