Thursday March 23, 2023

Coding classes

By Editorial Board
February 08, 2023

Pakistani schools -- both public and privately run -- unfortunately do not provide an inclusive environment for children with special needs. Children on the spectrum and children with Down’s Syndrome often drop out of schools and miss out on developing skills that can help them become strong members of the workforce. The 21st century is the era of technological advancements, and it is important to ensure that no child is left behind when it comes to teaching them new skills. In this regard, it is commendable that the government of Pakistan has decided to start coding (computer programming) classes for children with special needs. There is no official data to tell the number of such children – or adults – in Pakistan. According to the NGO ‘Autism Society of Pakistan’ (ASP), there are around 400,000 children on the spectrum in the country. Again, these are unofficial figures, and the actual number could be more than that. Children on the spectrum and others with special needs, have unfortunately, remained invisible in public policy for the longest time. Most parents rely on services offered by the private sector for the education and training of children with special needs. It is good to know that the public sector is finally doing something for children who need extra care and learning opportunities. For now, the government has asked coding trainers who are willing to teach children with special needs and institutions for children with special needs to reach out.

Even though we are in a modern society where past stigmas and taboos are shattered on a daily basis, there are still certain myths around children that may have unique needs. Most parents keep such children in isolation, depriving them of an education that may help them become more productive. This restricted lifestyle often does more harm than good. In most countries, such children have confidently entered the labour market after learning practical life skills. And while coding itself is not easy, it can attract some autistic students who have a tendency to be drawn to activities that are consistent. Computer programming will allow the more introverted to work independently without having to interact with a large number of people. Also, since the IT sector is already booming -- Pakistan’s IT exports are around $2.6 billion -- these children will be equipped with skills that are in high demand and can earn a decent income for themselves. At present, children with special needs – when they reach their teens – work as teacher’s assistants at privately run institutions for special needs on meagre wages. These coding classes will also empower these children and make them less reliant on their parents. This initiative is quite heartening, but the government also has to ensure that all such children have access to these facilities. There are far too many parents who lack the resources to opt for therapy and education for their children with special needs. Authorities have to include such children in the newly launched initiative to make a high-skilled workforce.