The Express Tribune Editorial 13 February 2021

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.



Regressive rules


Local authorities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have gone on an ‘honour’-based power trip, banning women from the front seats of vans and issuing confoundingly conservative dress codes at universities. In the first instance, police in Mansehra banned older schoolgirls from sitting in the front seats of vans because parents had complained that their kids were being harassed by van drivers. They say the move is “in pursuance of the local culture and tradition” and will preserve the children’s “safety and honour”.
Anyone who has sat in a van knows that the only passably comfortable seat is the one up front. All that the new rule does is force discomfort on students while letting lazy cops relax in comfort, rather than doing their jobs and arresting van drivers under existing laws. Keep in mind that groping or any other unwanted touching is illegal and carries a punishment of up to three years in jail. Instead of enforcing this existing law, the police have made up one that will make young women feel further objectified while doing nothing to punish lecherous van drivers. The solution is also emblematic of our national approach to policing: blame the victim and deny them their constitutional rights. When crime rises, police suggest hiring security guards. When assaults occur, police encourage ‘settlements’.
But the problem goes beyond the police. Hazara University in Mansehra and Bacha Khan University in Charsadda both recently brought in dress codes requiring women to wear abayas and headscarves. The universities’ managements claim this is because the dress is part of our culture. True that an abaya is in line with the Islamic dress code, but it is an Arab import, just as jeans is an import from West. As for headscarves, we take strong offense to France banning them, so why are we hypocritically forcing women here to wear them? Women have every right to decide how they dress. If men have a problem with it, it is the men who are the problem.
As a side note, we must mention that the new dress codes require that men do not have long hair. The argument is that it does not look professional. Yet former Chief Justice of Pakistan Jawwad S Khawaja and former Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani both sported ponytails. Their long hair did not hold them back, but their education and competence did help them advance. Perhaps varsities should focus on these things instead.

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