In the Draft National Education Policy (2017), the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training Government of Pakistan (2017) endorses the UNESCO’s definition of inclusive education (2005) as a:
“process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education. It involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision which covers all children of the appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children. (…) The concept of inclusion is beneficial not merely for children with special needs only; it applies to all children, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, personality characteristics, or economic status of their parents” (p. 117).
In 2005, all provincial and federal governments signed the Islamabad Declaration on Inclusive Education. It called for the following operational definition:
“Ensure that all children regardless of gender, abilities, disabilities and socio-economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds: are treated with dignity and respect; have equal access to education, health services, work and all other aspects of life; are enabled to develop their full academic, physical, emotional and social potential; have access to learning material in appropriate media and technical devices; and develop confidence in their abilities, skills and future prospects”.
Special education needs
Based on the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (2002), the relevant government departments identify special educational needs under four categories, namely visual impairment, hearing impairment, physical disabilities and intellectual disabilities.
The education laws of the four provinces still support education in special schools for children with disabilities. The Ministries of Social Welfare and Special Education manage these schools. For instance, the Balochistan Education Sector Plan (2013-18) mentions that “inclusive education concepts have never been applied to education in schools”, therefore it has limited its objectives more towards comprehension and attitudinal changes and less towards giftedness and those whose mental, physical or emotional abilities require special teaching methods, equipment or care. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, special schools cater for various needs such as: “hearing impairment, mental retardation, visual impairment and physical handicap. A paradigm shift is needed towards special education changing it from charity-based approach to right-based approach” (p. iii). There are very few institutions for special education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There are separate public schools for boys and girls in the mainstream educational system.
Special education in recent years “went through a rapid transition from integration, mainstreaming and inclusion of children with disabilities” in regular schools. The most recent Education sector plans for Punjab (2013-2017), Sindh (2014-2018) and Balochistan (2013-2018) highlight inclusive education in contrast to special education as a future goal. In this regard, the overall vision of the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (2002) “is to provide an environment that would allow full realization of the potential of persons with disabilities through their inclusive mainstreaming” (p. 4). The National Education Policy (2009) also iterated the similar objective "to equalize access to education through provision of basic facilities for girls and boys alike, underprivileged/marginalized groups and special children and adults”.
Article 25-A of the Constitution (2012) stipulates that “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as many may be determined by law”. Article 26 states that “there shall be no discrimination against any citizen on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth”. Article 38 (d) provides that as a principle of policy, necessities of life, including education and medical care will be provided by the State to the infirm, sick and unemployed persons.
The education Acts of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh prohibit denial of admission to schools of children from “disadvantaged” backgrounds and clearly state that education facilities should not be segregated/denied to any disadvantaged child — where a “disadvantaged” child refers to children from socially and economically disadvantaged class/groups— or those whose parents’ annual income is lower than the minimum limit.
Higher Education Commission’s Model University Ordinance no. CXX of 2002, h reads: “University shall be open to all persons of either gender and of whatever religion, race, creed, class, colour or domicile and no person shall be denied the privileges of the university on the grounds of religion, race, caste, creed, class, colour or domicile”. While a Bill a seeking to ensure a 5%-quota for religious minorities in university admissions was rejected in march 2018, Punjab will begin reserving spots for religious minorities in higher education and allow them to study their own faiths in school.
Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011. In parallel, the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities 2002 affirms that “ensuring greater access of children with mild and moderate disabilities to mainstream and local education is central to achieve determined goals”. The policy was followed up by the National Plan of Action for the Persons with Disabilities (2006).
All four provinces have a law on disability. The Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2018 and the Balochistan Persons with Disabilities Act 2017 mention non-discrimination in education as a major goal and specify policy guidelines to achieve it. Currently, a provincial Inclusive Education Strategy is being developed by the School Education Department, by the Government of Punjab. The Special Education Department in Punjab provides free pick and drop facility, free uniform, a stipend, braille books, recreation facilities and sports training to children with disabilities in Punjab. The provincial government of Punjab has also implemented a programme called “Punjab Inclusive Education Program” in two districts of the province to ensure inclusion of children with disabilities into the regular schools.
Non-governmental sector also contribute to providing inclusive education with respect to children with disabilities through projects such as USAID’s ENGAGE project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi’s Inclusive Assessments Pilot Project in Punjab and Sindh, Comprehensive Health and Education Forum (CHEF) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Ghazali Education Trust’s Rural Inclusive Education Program for children with disabilities in villages of Pakistan. Furthermore, the Network of Organizations working with People with Disabilities has developed a vocational training programme for young students with disabilities that seeks their inclusion in the mainstream economic activity. Deaf Reach also runs a vocational programme for deaf children that provides them trainings and financial means for empowerment. In 2012, the Punjab government has approved a policy framework for an inclusive education system for students with mild and moderate disabilities. Special needs students will be admitted to primary and middle classes and teachers of these schools will be trained by master trainers of the department of Special Education.
Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996. Article 34 of the Constitution (2012) thecal for the state to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life, including education. Moreover, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 is designed to mainstream transgender persons. The Act directly prohibits discrimination in education and establishes the Right to Education and a 3 percent quota in mainstream public and private education institutions for transgender children. It also stipulates that the service-providers should ensure equal opportunities in both academic and extra-curricular activities, such as sports, for transgender children. In parallel, the National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women (2002) aimed to remove “inequities and imbalances in all sectors of socio-economic development and to ensure women's equal access to all development benefits and social services”. The Education sector plans of Sindh and Balochistan emphasize gender gaps in education and list down gender equity as a strategic objective. Furthermore, quotas have been specified in certain public-sector higher education institutions for female students.
The Punjab Social Protection Authority has developed a “Transgender People Welfare Programme” for the mainstreaming of transgender children in education. A recently launched initiative by the Federal government, called “Ehsaas” under Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has components on the inclusion of out-of-school girls and women in the mainstream education system through second-chance programs. Moreover, Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal’s Women Empowerment Centres (WEC) provide free training to widows, orphans and poor girls in different skills i.e. cutting, sewing, knitting, computers and embroidery along with other trades. Civil society organizations are also playing an active role in the promotion and implementation of inclusive education in the country. Non-government organizations also encourage inclusive education at the provincial level such as the Siyani Sahelian project by ITA which uses accelerated learning to ensure that out-of-school girls are ready to attend mainstream schools.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Article 36 of the Constitution (2012) mandates the state to ensure inclusion of minorities in the mainstream. However, no explicit definition of linguistic/ethnic minorities is provided in policy documents and as such, there are no education laws which are specifically targeting the minorities. Despite this, Punjab has tried to mainstream minority students by initiating education scholarships program at the provincial level. In addition in 2018 Punjab Assembly unanimously passed a bill (the Punjab Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Bill) making Quranic teachings compulsory in all educational institutions of the province. Pakistan officially recognizes only one community as an indigenous group (through a 1974 Presidential Ordinance) that is Kalash Tribes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and has devised policies to protect them. The government has drafted an Indigenous peoples’ policy planning framework, keeping in line with UN Declaration and World Bank’s operational policies, to uplift the Kalash community.
More generally, during Pakistan’s review in 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child showed serious concern over the discriminatory hate material in school textbooks against religious minorities. In the outcome report of Pakistan’s UPR, the Pakistani government accepted 168 out of the 289 recommendations it received from the UN member states, 117 others were ‘noted’ and four were rejected. Several of the accepted and or noted recommendations ask for the end to all forms of discrimination against minorities. Recommendations 87, 148, 149, 224 and 225 in particular, call to ensure that all children enjoy a right to education without discrimination and protection of freedom of religion or belief of religious minorities.
People living in rural or remote areas
Article 22(4) and 37 of the Constitution (2012) mention backward areas and prescribe the state to ensure the uplifting of these areas. However, there are no laws/policies at the national and provincial level, which are directly linked to inclusive education for children from rural/remote areas. Nevertheless, quota system exists in certain higher education public institutes which reserve seats for students from rural areas. The Punjab Government has sought to uplift the economically backwards region of South Punjab by building quality schools and institutions in the rural districts. Non-government organizations also play a part in inclusive education for children from rural areas e.g. Pakistan Rural Education Program by Ghazali Education Trust which seeks to increase access to education for children from rural areas.
The Education Acts of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh stipulate the State to uplift children from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensure that education facilities are not segregated/denied to any child, irrespective of their backgroudThe states have also developed a social protection system for the most marginalized groups. The ensures that the basic needs of the students from disadvantaged backgrounds are met. Their ‘Waseela-e-Taleem’ programme encourages children from low-income families to attend mainstream schools. This has resulted in the primary school enrolment of nearly 2.2 million children in 50 districts of the country. In parallel, the Third Punjab Education Sector Project by World Bank seeks to improve access to schooling for the poorest and quality learning for all. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi also runs an education programme for children from rag-picker families.
British Council in collaboration with Educate a Child has also implemented programmes, such as Impossible-Take a Child to School for the inclusion of children from backward and poor groups into mainstream schools with 225,000 children enrolled in schools across the country. These children were identified with the support of local civil society organizations.
The institutional stakeholders for inclusive education in Pakistan can be divided into three categories: national, local and non-governmental. The same stakeholders are also working for the provision of special education in the country. Despite this, no coordination committee or mechanisms exists for collaboration among different stakeholders. However, there exists a referral mechanism for children with disabilities in Punjab through which District Disability Assessment Boards at each district headquarter hospital, overseen by the Department of Social Welfare, determine the nature and incidence of disability among children and work in tandem with the Special Education Department to provide the requisite information for each child.
At the federal level, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training provides the overall guiding principles, through a National Education Policy, for educational policies and laws across all provinces. Nonetheless after 18th amendment in the Constitution (2012), provinces are autonomous in drafting their own policies/laws as long as these policies/laws do not contradict the federal laws and Constitution. The same ministry has designed the National Curriculum which is being used by the provinces (Ministry of Education, 2006). Similarly, the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education is responsible for the provision of special education in the federal capital.
At the provincial level, the provincial school education departments (SEDs) are responsible for the implementation of provincial education policies. Since all of the provincial education acts prohibit discrimination, it is the responsibility of SEDs to ensure that this provision is enforced. In Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan the non-formal and literacy basic education departments are to provide quality non-formal education to out-of-school children in their respective provinces. Each province has its own departments providing educational services to children with disabilities and have the mandate to formulate policies for special education, including development of curriculum. The Department of Special Education (Punjab),Department of Empowerment of PWDs (Sindh) and Department of Social Welfare (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan) administer special education centers in their districts, respectively.
Among the non-government stakeholders are, both international and national lorganizations. The organizations have to be registered with the relevant departments such as the Social Welfare department. The curriculum developed by these organization and to be taught in programs needs to be vetted by the respective provincial education department and curriculum and textbooks boards. For instance, the curriculum for ITA’s Chalo Parho Barho program was vetted by the Directorate of Curriculum and Teacher Education Kyber Pakhtunkhawa
The Accessibility Code of Pakistan 2006 requires that all buildings are constructed, altered and renovated keeping in mind the physical accessibility for everyone. The National Education Policy Framework 2018 aims to maximize existing school infrastructure by consolidating primary, middle and high schools, to introduce afternoon shifts, where feasible, to address school shortage, and to improve access to secondary schools particularly for girls, either through the establishment of new schools, through school up-gradation, and through the provision of transport in remote areas.
Changes in school infrastructure and in special education provision are stated as a goal in provincial Disability Welfare policies of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. In Balochistan, the Persons with Disability Act No II of 2017 states that the school councils shall develop a guideline for removing barriers and obstacles to access in buildings, roads, modes of transportation, schools, workplaces, communication and information related services.
The National Curriculum 2017 aims to build and upgrade “education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all” (p. 6). The National Education Policy Framework 2017 (the 2018 does not) highlights inclusive education but the curriculum is not designed for individualized instruction.
Learning materials and ICTs
The Punjab Examination Commission ensures that the language of its test items is unbiased with regards to gender, religion, ethnicity and socio-economic status. Textbooks that are being used in the provinces, such as Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board’s Grade 2 textbook for Urdu, promote the inclusion of vulnerable groups and minorities. Several private organizations such as Deaf Reach, Sightsavers and Aziz Jahan Begum Trust are working actively for the provision of assistive technologies and appropriate learning materials for children with disabilities Punjab has also developed a digitized textbook project called E-learn which seeks to increase accessibility for all children. Assistive technologies such as braille books and audio-visual aids are also available via special education departments in Punjab and Sindh.
The principles of peace, tolerance and human rights are emphasized in teacher training. The National Education Policy Framework 2017 tailors teacher training curriculum to the needs of the learners. There are few facilities in Pakistan for special education training. The University of Karachi, the National Institute for the Handicapped at the University of Islamabad (NIHUS), and the Allama Iqbal Open University where the first to provide a master's degree in special education.
Since 1985, the Directorate General of Special Education within the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training have sought to provide enabling environments and opportunities through policies, plans, programs and projects that would promote social progress, educate and rehabilitate children and persons with disabilities. The Directorate General of Special Education offers in-service training and braille training, seminars, workshops, conferences, and awareness campaign as well as counseling and guidance for teachers. A National Training Center for the Disabled and a national Mobility and Independence Training Center for producing teachers in special education were established in Islamabad. These projects were made possible by WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO, and UNDP through funds, overseas training, and technical guidance from .
Despite the lack of training, there is evidence of teachers and support personnel demonstrating positive attitudes towards inclusive education. Studies indicate that teachers are generally amenable to inclusive teaching practices but there are gaps in training and sensitization which can be bridged to develop inclusive education.
The teaching and support personnel in public schools are recruited through a formal system. According to the Labour Policy 2010, no one can be discriminated because of his or her personal characteristics during hiring process. The Government ensures the special quota for employment of disabled persons in all establishments in private as well as public sector. Although the hiring of special school teachers occurs separately from other teachers, the process to be followed remains the same.
Pakistan does not have an education monitoring report at the national level. However, the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM), a body working under the Federal Ministry of Education, releases an annual report called Pakistan Education Statistics to log the condition of education in the country. However, this report does not monitor inclusive education.
From civil-society, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan has also been monitoring the status of education in Pakistan with a citizen-led household level survey and assessment of children in the age group of 5-16 years from all across the country. It is an annual report, published by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), which captures the learning outcomes, enrollment status and provision of school facilities in all districts of the country, among other indicators. The ASER Pakistan has also included Washington Group on Disability Statistics’ Short Set of Questions to measure the disability prevalence and educational status of children with disabilities in some regions of the country. More recently, ITA has piloted the Braille and Pakistan Sign Language adapted ASER learning assessment tools in schools of Punjab and Sindh, and has used the Washington Group’s Child Functioning Module to estimate the disability prevalence in the same provinces.
Overall, while there is no specific monitoring framework for inclusive education with a complete list of relevant indicators, there are periodic compilations of education statistics that can be utilized for this purpose. These include the Pakistan Education Statistics, ASER and MICS reports, among others.