In the 2017 National Education Policy, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training Government of Pakistan endorses UNESCO’s definition of inclusive education 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’.
It elaborates, ‘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.’
In 2005, all provincial and federal governments signed the Islamabad Declaration on Inclusive Education, which called for an operational definition of inclusion education as being intended to:
‘ ... 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 2002 National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, the relevant government departments identify special education 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 2013–18 Balochistan Education Sector Plan mentions that ‘inclusive education concepts have never been applied to education in schools’; therefore, it limited its objectives to focus more on comprehension and attitudinal changes and less on 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’, according to a UNESCO policy analysis.There are very few institutions for special education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and there are separate public schools for boys and girls in the mainstream education 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 (2013–17), Sindh (2014–18) and Balochistan (2013–18) highlight inclusive education in contrast to special education as a future goal. In this regard, the overall vision of the 2002 National Policy for Persons with Disabilities ‘is to provide an environment that would allow full realization of the potential of persons with disabilities through their inclusive mainstreaming’. The 2009 National Education Policy 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 25A of the 2012 Constitution 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 to infirm, sick and unemployed persons by the State.
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 nor denied to any disadvantaged child – where a ‘disadvantaged’ child refers to children from socially and economically disadvantaged classes/groups – or those whose parents’ annual income is lower than the minimum limit.
The Higher Education Commission’s Model University Ordinance No. CXX of 2002 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 seeking to ensure a 5% quota for religious minorities in university admissions was rejected in March 2018, Punjab was to 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 2002 National Policy for Persons with Disabilities 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 with a 2006 action plan.
All four provinces have a law on disability. The 2018 Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act and the 2017 Balochistan Persons with Disabilities Act mention non-discrimination in education as a major goal and specify policy guidelines to achieve it. As of 2019, a provincial Inclusive Education Strategy was being developed by the School Education Department of the Government of Punjab. The Special Education Department in Punjab provides free pick-up and drop-off, free uniforms, a stipend, Braille books, recreation facilities and sports training to children with disabilities. The provincial government has also implemented the Punjab Inclusive Education Program in two districts of the province to ensure inclusion of children with disabilities in regular schools. In 2012, the Punjab government approved a policy framework for an inclusive education system for students with mild and moderate disabilities. It set out that special needs students would be admitted to primary and middle school classes and teachers of these schools would be trained by master trainers of the department of special education.
The non-government sector also contributes to providing inclusive education with respect to children with disabilities through projects such as USAID’s ENGAGE project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Inclusive Assessments pilot project by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) 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 mainstream economic activity. Deaf Reach runs a vocational programme for deaf children that provides trainings and financial means for empowerment.
Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1996. Article 34 of the 2012 Constitution calls for the state to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life, including education. In parallel, the 2002 National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women 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 gender equity as a strategic objective. Furthermore, quotas have been specified in certain public-sector higher education institutions for female students.
The 2018 Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act is designed to mainstream transgender persons. It directly prohibits discrimination in education and establishes the right to education and a 3% quota for transgender children in mainstream public and private education institutions. It also stipulates that service providers should ensure equal opportunities in both academic and extracurricular activities, such as sports, for transgender children. The Punjab Social Protection Authority has developed a Transgender Persons Welfare Policy for the mainstreaming of transgender children in education.
A recently launched initiative by the Punjab federal government under the Benazir Income Support Programme, called Ehsaas, has components addressing 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 provide free training to widows, orphans and girls living in poverty covering different skills, such as cutting, sewing, knitting, computers and embroidery.
Civil society organizations are also playing an active role in the promotion and implementation of inclusive education in the country. Non-government organizations encourage inclusive education at the provincial level with programmes such as ITA's Siyani Sahelian project, 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 2012 Constitution 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 specifically targeting these minorities. Despite this, Punjab has tried to mainstream minority students by initiating education scholarship programs at the provincial level. In addition, in 2018 the 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) – the Kalash tribe in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – and has devised policies to protect them. The government has drafted an Indigenous People Planning Framework, keeping in line with United Nations treaties and the 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 Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council, 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 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 the right to education without discrimination and protection of freedom of religion or belief.
People living in rural or remote areas
Articles 22(4) and 37 of the 2012 Constitution mention backward areas and prescribe the state to ensure the uplifting of these areas. However, no laws or policies at the national or provincial level are directly linked to inclusive education for children from rural/remote areas. Nevertheless, certain higher education public institutions maintain a quota system to reserve seats for students from rural areas. The Punjab Government has sought to uplift the 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. For example, the Pakistan Rural Education Program by Ghazali Education Trust seeks to increase access to education for children from rural areas.
The education acts of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh call on the State to uplift children from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensure that education facilities are not segregated or denied to any child, irrespective of their background. The states have also developed a social protection system for the most marginalized groups which ensures that the basic needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are met. Their ‘Waseela-e-Taleem’ programme encourages children from low-income families to attend mainstream schools and has resulted in the primary school enrolment of nearly 2.2 million children in 50 districts. In parallel, the World Bank’s Third Punjab Education Sector Project seeks to improve access to schooling for the poorest and quality learning for all. ITA also runs an education programme for children from rag-picker families.
The British Council in collaboration with Educate a Child has implemented programmes such as Ilmpossible –Take a Child to School, which promotes the inclusion of children from backward and poor groups into mainstream schools and has resulted in the enrolment of 225,000 children 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, a referral mechanism exists for children with disabilities in Punjab through which district disability assessment boards at each district headquarters 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 education policies and laws across all provinces. Nonetheless, according to the 18th amendment in the Constitution, provinces are autonomous in drafting their own policies and 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. 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 are responsible for the implementation of provincial education policies. Since all of the provincial education acts prohibit discrimination, it is the responsibility of these departments 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 education services to children with disabilities and has the mandate to formulate policies for special education, including regarding curriculum development. The Department of Special Education in Punjab, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities in Sindh and Department of Social Welfare in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan administer special education centres in their districts.
Non-government stakeholders include both international and national organizations. The organizations must be registered with the relevant departments, such as the social welfare department. The curriculum developed by these organizations and to be taught in programmes needs to be vetted by the respective provincial education department and curriculum and textbooks boards. For instance, the curriculum for ITA’s ‘Chalo Parrho Barrho’ programme was vetted by the Directorate of Curriculum and Teacher Education in Kyber Pakhtunkhawa.
The 2006 Accessibility Code of Pakistan requires that all buildings be constructed, altered and renovated keeping in mind physical accessibility for everyone. The 2018 National Education Policy Framework 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 upgrades or 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 in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. In Balochistan, the 2017 Persons with Disability Act No. II 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 2017 National Curriculum 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’. The 2017 National Education Policy Framework highlights inclusive education (the 2018 does not) but the curriculum is not designed for individualized instruction.
Learning materials and ICT
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 the 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 audiovisual 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 2017 National Education Policy Framework tailors teacher training curricula to the needs of 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 and the Allama Iqbal Open University were 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 has sought to provide enabling environments and opportunities through policies, plans, programmes and projects that promote social progress and 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 campaigns as well as counselling and guidance for teachers. A national training centre for the disabled and a National Mobility and Independence Training Centre were established in Islamabad for producing teachers in special education . These projects were made possible through funds, overseas training and technical guidance by WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO and UNDP.
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 2010 Labour Policy, no one can be discriminated against during the hiring process because of personal characteristics. The government ensures a quota for employment of disabled persons in all establishments in the private as well as the 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, 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 ages 5 to 16 from all across the country. Published by ITA, it is an annual report which captures the learning outcomes, enrolment status and provision of school facilities in all districts of the country, among other indicators. The ASER Pakistan has also included the 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 Braille and Pakistan Sign Language adapted ASER learning assessment tools in schools in Punjab and Sindh and has used the Washington Group’s Child Functioning Module to estimate 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.