Inclusive education is defined as a learning environment that promotes the full academic and professional development of all learners irrespective of race, class colour, gender disability, sexual preferences, learning styles and language. There are the principles for inclusive education like fulfilling the needs of all students, listening to them and most importantly the individual differences and diversity being accepted as a source. Inclusion is a continuous process required to be practiced right from early years of education to higher classes.
Pakistan is an ideological state with diversity even among the Muslim majority, but we have a significant percentage of non-Muslim Pakistanis as well, whom we often forget being the majority. The kind of comments and behaviors we exhibit towards these minority groups is at times quite disappointing. Members of Hindu and Sikh community are seen by some Pakistanis as sympathisers of India. Same is the general perception about Christians and other minority communities. It is thought that they have some association with the religious institutions abroad. Similarly, there are some professions that are looked down upon. Being a Muslim and male dominated society, there are certain norms and values which are followed all over Pakistan. When a child is around 5 years of age, he/she would join school along with preparation for religious education. A general trend is to send the child to the mosque for this purpose or a teacher is hired. At a very tender age when the child has yet to explore the complexities and mysteries of the society around him, he is handed over to a person who is into religious teaching by default.
We are very well aware of the fact that usually the weakest child in a thickly populated family is considered to be suitable for religious studies. That child is handed over to the madrassa (religious seminary). The living conditions, the environment and the treatment of these children are all a bitter reality. They are asked to collect their share of food from the homes in the vicinity. Though the trend of handing over children to the mosque is on decline and has been replaced by the growing number of religious seminaries, in remote rural areas this practice is still common.
The early years are usually given to the memorisation of the Holy Quran in both cases and the kids do memorise it, but without understanding what the verse actually means. A five year old child who cannot even understand what a ‘sect’ is and how one sect is superior to the other has to learn the difference among various sects. Similarly, the mentors themselves are a product of the same sort of learning. It is surprising to see that in certain madaris, a dropout from grade five or six is teaching the children after completion of a course in the same madrasa or mosque. We can imagine the level of understanding of such a mentor and teacher, particularly when dealing the sensitive subject of religion and what can be the level of learning of such learner.
When we say education for all, it means that the classroom environment has to accept each child as an individual with his/her capabilities
The moment a child enters a school, the emphasis and superiority is doubled when the books of all subjects glorify the majority religion, leaving no room for the minority faith groups. It can be clearly seen in the books of language and sciences as well. The child considers himself to be the superior religious follower and has little tolerance for difference of opinion.
Since we have different streams of educational systems, we really need to look critically into the need of an inclusive curriculum. It should have the potential to meet the needs of a diverse group at all stages and all streams including madarsas, public schools and all sorts of private schools. Similarly, the parallel streams need to be tied up in one unified inclusive curriculum which should generate and create a sense of respect for all groups, communities, faiths with differences. When we say education for all, it means that the classroom environment has to accept each child as an individual with his/her capabilities. Unfortunately, we don’t adopt this inclusive approach while speaking of curriculum reforms. Let’s create a cohesive and inclusive environment in early learning years and primary education. It will lead us to a society ready to cope with growing challenges of discord and disunity.
The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector
Published in Daily Times, July 18th, 2017.