Don’t forget children with special needs

On the occasion of this year's International Day of Persons with disabilities, it is essential to remember the added problems that persons with disabilities are facing due to the coronavirus pandemic, and try to address them. Among them is the hardship being faced by thousands of students with disabilities either in mainstream or in special schools.

Around eight months have passed since schools were declared closed by the government in response to the pandemic. While the government has taken some small steps to aid students continue on with their studies—or at least stay connected in some way—none of these measures have taken children with special needs into account.

According to the Directorate of Primary Education, the number of students with disabilities at primary schools and madrasas last year was 1,24,056. And in secondary school the number was 65,985. One of the stop-gap measures taken during these last few months has been the holding of online classes and lessons aired on BTV. And although it has been problematic to some degree among all students, it has been particularly unhelpful for children with special needs as each of them may have a different set of needs. This means that children with special needs may have gone nearly the whole period of school shutdown being completely cut off from their studies—unless their parents made some special arrangements. As experts have repeatedly reminded us during this whole period, being disconnected from their studies entirely for such a long time will have numerous long term negative effects on children—both on their education as well as their psyche. And it is completely unfair for children with special needs to have this extra burden added onto them.

It is understandable that the government could not initially take any special steps for them, as the scenario was completely new and there was very little reaction time. But it is not acceptable to be so oblivious to their plight for eight long months. Many of these children are now at risk of dropping out and the government, therefore, must address their needs immediately. A couple of ways the government can improve the situation is by hiring sign language interpreters and adding subtitles to TV classes. Consulting and collaborating with schools and institutions that cater to these children can also generate ways to get children with special needs back on track with their studies. Taking ideas from other countries that are much more responsive to such children will bring in new and innovative solutions to these education gaps. We hope the government will not shy away from addressing the needs of special students on a broader and more  permanent basis.

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