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Mainstreaming the mentally challenged

February 27, 2012

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A tableau being presented by intellectually impaired children.—File Photo

AMIN MAKTAB – a special education institution for intellectually impaired children – has over the last five decades uplifted the lives of thousands of less fortunate children and the results are heart-warming as those children have generated a feeling of hope and developed their personalities.

Set up in a small rented building in October 1961, the Amin Maktab is celebrating its 50 years of service boasting its ever-expanding reach to intellectually impaired children in rural areas of Lahore, Faisalabad and Sheikhupura districts. The institution could touch the lives of hundreds of less fortunate children through its new concept of “Outreach and Inclusive Education Services”. Overall, the institution has imparted training and rehabilitation services to over 5,000 children with mild to profound mental impairment.

Situated at J-Block of Gulberg-III, the Amin Maktab was initially enrolling children on its campus but its management led by Justice (retired) Aamer Raza A Khan found it to be a costly endeavour – Rs6,000 per child per month, as well as difficult for the parents.

According to surveys, some 2.9 per cent population of Lahore is said to be suffering from disabilities including one per cent affected by major handicaps.

Considering the huge gap in services offered to such children, the Amin Maktab management then embarked upon a plan of Outreach and Inclusive Education Schools that introduced services near special children’s houses.

Justice Khan, who is president of Pakistan Society for the Welfare of Mentally Retarded Children (Amin Maktab), says the society motivated low-cost private street schools to admit mentally impaired children to their normal children’s classes and carry them along. “We signed MoUs with respective street schools, wherein we offered to train their teachers to meet special children’s needs as well as shortfall in financial resources, if they received fee less than their cost that include hiring of teachers and staff. We also provided equipment and furniture.”

Stating that the initiative clicked, Justice Khan says now 32 private schools, including eight in rural areas, are imparting education to some 398 children. Similarly, some 422 children are being looked after through outreach project. “Now we are of considered opinion that the mentally impaired children cannot improve their personalities, if they will remain isolated and not interact with normal children,” he says.

Stating that “Inclusive Schooling” is the solution to bridge the gap between the high number of special children and less educational and training facilities, Justice Khan says the cost under this initiative has also dropped substantially to Rs300 per child per month.

“Of estimated 100,000 mentally challenged children, the services are being offered to only 5,000 children in Lahore.”

Justice Khan says the Amin Maktab is also offering training services through a one-year internship diploma to girls holding masters degrees in special education or psychology. Besides paying Rs10,000 per month as stipend during training, the Amin Maktab also hires some of them as teachers. So far, he says, 47 girls have got training and are serving different public and private sector institutions.

Justice Khan says the Amin Maktab is receiving donations and has invested its financial assets in banks, “We are now financially self-sufficient to run existing programmes.”

In the evening, he says, the Maktab’s campus is being used to impart education to street children those living in nearby slums.

“We pay teachers’ and staff salary to the tune of Rs150,000 per month, while EISAR Trust manages and monitors the afternoon school that runs through 2pm to 5pm.

As a part of Golden Jubilee celebrations, Justice Khan says a congregation is being organised on March 3 to be presided over by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. “We will ask the chief minister to make public schools duty bound to enroll special children and offer them a conducive environment to learn and groom their personalities.”

He says the government should give funds to the Punjab Welfare Trust for Disabled to finance special children’s education in public schools.

“The Punjab special education department is getting huge funds including high salaries for teachers but failed to create the desired impact.”

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The Punjab University Academic Staff Association’s annual elections are round the corner – on Feb 29.

This time, pro-VC Teachers’ Front expects bright chances to win the elections, while the sitting elected body of Academic Group, led by Prof Dr Mahr Saeed Akhtar, hopes that teachers will display their vision and help them win again and create a check and balance in the administration of the university.

Stating that Syndicate’s all elected members are of VC group, Prof Akhtar says the win for Teachers’ Front will mean that benefits will be reaped by those close to the VC.

Answering a question that Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT) decided to hold a Seerat Conference at Institute of Education and Research’s (IER) Waheed Shaheed Hall on Feb 29, Prof Akhtar said he didn’t know anything, adding elections would be held peacefully at IER’s Hall.

Responding to this situation, the PU Teachers Front (TF) on Sunday called an emergency meeting of its executive council chaired by Prof Dr Shaukat Ali. The TF condemned invitation to Qazi Husain Ahmad on Feb 29 – to sabotage elections.

They alleged that Mahr Saeed group was seeing his visible defeat in the ASA polls and `this conspiracy’ was being hatched with nefarious designs to create law and order situation on election day. “The purpose of the move is to create law and order and minimise teachers’ turnout with the help of IJT’s rogues and external elements. The IJT and its supporters in teachers’ ranks want to mar environment of the campus and they can go to any extent for achieving the goal,” a TF member said.

Besides urging Qazi Husain Ahmad not to come to PU on the day of ASA polls, he also demanded that the Jamaat-i-Islami amir should intervene and bar IJT from holding activities aimed at sabotaging peaceful activities on the campus. “The unfortunate aspect of this episode is that IJT is using the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) for its negative politics and fulfill their designs.”

The TF leaders said the IJT had also not sought any permission from the varsity administration to hold Seerat Conference on Feb 29. They said the administration had some days ago organised Seerat Moot in Faisal Auditorium in which ulema from all schools of thought were invited.

The TF’s candidates for the ASA polls are: Aamir Sarwar for president, Javed Sami (general secretary), Dr Muhammad Ehsan (vice-president Arts), Dr Abid Chaudhry (vice-president Science), Dr Muqeet Javed (treasurer) and Furqan Ahmad (joint secretary).

The Academic Group candidates are: Prof Dr Mahr Saeed Akhtar (president), Prof Muhammad Ramzan (vice-president Arts), Abida Latif (vice-president Science), Kamran Mirza (general secretary) and Prof Muhammad Munawar (treasurer). — mansoormalik173@hotmail.com