Embracing ‘special’ students
A child has special educational needs if he is developmentally ‘delayed’ or diagnosed with a learning disability such as dyslexia or dysgraphia. This means that the child is either mentally, physically, socially or emotionally not able to meet to the requirements of the traditional classroom environment. They may have difficulty in communicating with teachers and peers, or have trouble coping with schoolwork. In such a situation, children are enlisted in special educational programs that cater their specific needs which help them adapt in society.
Unfortunately, special education in Pakistan has severely deteriorated over the past many years as neither teachers nor parents are eager to give these children the best possible learning experience. Moreover, special education is only restricted to the primary or Montessori level and, as of yet, no initiatives have been taken to extent such programmes to higher education. In light of the situation, President Arif Alvi recently announced that the HEC is preparing a policy under which fees of special students attending post-graduation classes are to be waived off. While the initiative may provide differently-abled students who are financially weak with an opportunity to progress at a higher level, the initiative alone does not address the issue at a broader level.
Apart from hefty fees that some private institutions may take for special education, the stigma around learning disability has also hampered progress in this area. In many cases, parents are not ready to except the fact that their child is “special” and hence force them into an environment they are not comfortable with. Pakistan has long struggled with the problem of inclusivity — we find it easier to shun those that are different rather than help them incorporate in society. This is because existing systems only cater to those that have exceptional expertise, which was laid from a scientific perspective. Instead of fostering a competitive environment of first and last, educational systems and criteria’s need to be reworked to embrace diversity and difference.
Unhealthy air quality
The higher judiciary has once again taken the police to task over ‘faulty’ investigations. During a hearing on February 11 relating to deaths allegedly caused by a toxic gas leak in Keamari, where the Karachi Port is located, the Sindh High Court told police to improve their investigations in the light of all available reports. The court told the area SSP to take action on the deaths when the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency submitted a report in which it described the air quality at the Karachi Port and in nearby areas injurious to health. Since February last year, poisonous gas has allegedly killed more than 14 people in Keamari. The reported gas leak remains a mystery.
The SEPA report contains important home truths like containers of toxic chemicals are being kept at the port for the past several years; unhygienic conditions prevail around the oil terminal; pipe lines are in an unsatisfactory state; the quality of air at the port and in nearby areas is harmful to health; and ships carrying soyabean are docked at the port. The report says no standard operating procedures are being followed during unloading of soyabean and other such goods from ships. This shows the SOPs are being followed more in breach than observance. The authorities need to be seriously focused on this and other crucial issues. The report found the concentration of toxic gases, including carbon monoxide, alarmingly high in the air in the port area.
The court observed palpable negligence on the part of the investigation officer like the case was closed even though it had been categorised as A-class, and the victims’ statements were ignored. Replying to a question by the court, the IO said a post-mortem was performed on only one of the bodies and it was found that the person had died of a drug overdose. No other autopsies were done and the case was shut. The hearing was put off to March 16.