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Thursday June 13, 2024

Special education: Bridging gaps, creating opportunities

By Our Correspondent
October 01, 2023

The provision of education and related facilities to differently-abled children is not just a matter of social responsibility; it is a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of an inclusive society.

Education is also the great equaliser, and every child, regardless of their abilities, deserves an equal opportunity to learn and grow. Providing education to differently-abled children ensures that they can develop their potential to the fullest, contribute to society, and lead fulfilling lives.The Punjab Special Education Department has been playing a pivotal role in ensuring education for differently-abled children within the province. The department is considered to be the vanguard of inclusivity and social progress, with several key functions.

With an unwavering commitment to ensuring inclusive education for special children across the province, the efforts of the Punjab Special Education Department are not just commendable; they are transformative indeed.As one of the vital components of its activities, the Punjab Special Education Department has launched a comprehensive enrollment campaign in 2023 to raise awareness about the significance of enrolling out-of-school special children. The primary aim is to spread awareness among parents, carers, and the general public about the importance of enrolling out-of-school special children. “This campaign is not merely about increasing enrollment numbers; it's about breaking down barriers and dispelling misconceptions surrounding special education. By encouraging more special children to join the educational system, the department is paving the way for a more inclusive and accepting society,” says Saima Saeed, Secretary, Special Education.

One of the most heartening developments in the Punjab Special Education Department's journey towards inclusive education is their recognition of high achievers among special children. In an historic first, special children who achieved more than 80 percent marks in their final exams and those who excelled in co-curricular activities are being honoured with high achiever awards. This initiative will not only celebrate the talent and accomplishments of these remarkable children but will also serve as a source of inspiration for others facing similar challenges.

In collaboration with UNICEF and the Primary and Secondary Health Department, the Punjab Special Education Department has undertaken health screening for special children enrolled in schools across the province. This initiative is a testament to the holistic approach taken by the Punjab Special Education Department towards inclusive education.

It was aimed at providing the relevant assistive devices to the special children to significantly enhance their quality of life, enabling them to participate more actively in the educational process. These health screenings not only identified specific needs but also addressed them effectively, ensuring that no child is left behind.

Recognising that inclusion goes beyond just enrollment, the department has gone the extra mile in providing a wide range of support services. These services include free Braille books, three sets of uniforms annually, free pick-up and drop-off services, special mental and psychological training, speech therapy, and a monthly stipend of Rs800 for every enrolled child. For those residing in hostels, free accommodation and meals are provided, ensuring that their basic needs are met. Furthermore, the department offers free assessment, counselling, and therapeutic services to cater to the diverse needs of special children.

ZahidMajeed, Director, Punjab Special Education Department, said, “In essence, the Punjab Special Education Department is not merely an administrative body but a lifeline for a large number of special children and their families. Their comprehensive approach to inclusive education goes beyond the classroom and addresses the multifaceted needs of these children. They understand that inclusion is not just a concept; it's a transformative journey that requires unwavering commitment and tireless effort."

The impact of the Punjab Special Education Department’s initiatives extends far beyond the walls of educational institutions. The seeds sown by the Punjab Special Education Department are bound to ensure a more inclusive and empathetic society where every child, regardless of abilities, can dream, learn, and thrive. The Punjab Special Education Department's efforts to expand access to education for differently-abled children are truly commendable. With over 300 educational institutions and vocational centres under its wings, the department has created a robust infrastructure to facilitate the education of special children. The enrollment of more than 39,000 special children from preparatory to degree college level is a testament to the department’s dedication. This significant number is not just a statistic; it represents countless stories of hope, resilience, and potential unleashed. It is a journey that deserves not just applause but active support and emulation, for it is through such efforts that we can truly build a world where no child is left behind. —Hasaan Manzoor