Inclusive education advocates for educational systems with an approach that serves the needs of all learners while identifying and overcoming barriers that prevent children with disabilities from being included in the educational system. Azad Jammu & Kashmir has a high literacy rate of 66% compared with Pakistan 56%. In spite of this commendable figure, about 28.9% of children with disabilities (CWDs) between the ages of 5 and 20 do not attend primary and high school. These figures are significantly higher when compared to children without disabilities in the same age groups.
The Constitution of Pakistan recognizes education as a directive principle of state policy under article 25-A of the Constitution and justifiable right. However, the National Education Policy of 2009 expressly affirms the right of children with disabilities & without disabilities to education. In addition, Section 9 of the Constitution Article 25-A imposes an obligation on duty bearers to ensure that children with disabilities are included in the educational system. The right to education is also protected under Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This provision also places an obligation on state parties not to exclude children with disabilities from free and compulsory primary education, and that the inclusion is complemented by accessibility, reasonable accommodation, and effective individualized support aimed at maximizing academic and social development. Pakistan ratified the CRPD in 2008 and adopted a free universal primary education in 2001 as a means of achieving education for all. Pakistan has a National Disability Policy of 2002, the Education Sector Strategic Plan 2013-2016, and the Special Education Unit under department of social welfare all geared towards achieving inclusive education for children with disabilities. The legal implication of these laws and policies is that the government of Pakistan has obligations under international and domestic law to ensure that children with disabilities are not excluded from the general educational system and that children with disabilities can learn on an equal basis with abled children. However, children with disabilities still do not attend primary school. There is a huge gap between the legal framework and the practical implementation of inclusive education in Pakistan & Azad Jammu & Kashmir. Several factors account for Azad Jammu & Kashmir’s poor realization of inclusive education. Inadequate human and material resources such as trained teachers, facilities are not inclusive are a major challenge. More importantly, children with disabilities are still perceived as abnormal and should not be placed together with children without disabilities.
An inclusive system is reflective of a system that provides a range of support that meets the needs of all children. Pakistan’s and AJK’s self-proclaimed practice of inclusive education is based on placing children in the mainstream classroom with inadequate facilities. These few facilities are usually made available at the insistence of disabled people’s organizations, and sometimes by the government. This approach reflects an integrated system requiring children with disabilities to fit in rather than an inclusive system designed to meet the needs of all children including children with disabilities.
There is a lack of commitment by the government in creating the necessary inclusive environment through facilities, support and capacity building programs to fill the gaps in the educational sector. As long as children with disabilities do not have access to quality basic education in an all-inclusive system and on an equal basis with others, Pakistan and AJK falls short of its obligations under Article 24 of the CRPD.
In conforming to the standards of the Convention, capacity building is key. This requires the government of Pakistan and AJK to support regular and effective capacity building initiatives such as workshops and disability equality training for all teachers in the educational system. Allocation of sufficient resources to facilitate an all-inclusive educational system and develop the capacity of all schools in providing education for all children is also necessary. This needs to be complemented by renovating public utilities to accord accessibility to schools and other public places.
The legal framework in Pakistan is conducive for inclusive education; however this has not been translated into measureable targets aimed at providing education for all categories of children. Pakistan and AJK is yet to realize that the full implication of inclusive education involves developing all schools to meet the needs of all children with disabilities and not limiting educational opportunities for children with disabilities to specific schools as the current situation does. Education cannot be free where the system lacks the proper mechanism to make it available for the benefit of all children.