She’s deaf, but does that eliminate her right to education?
Like any other student, 13-year-old Sonia Khan was extremely excited about her promotion to the seventh grade. For her, this was a whole new journey that allowed her to explore her life through books and knowledge. But unfortunately, the hope was diminished when she was denied admission to the next grade by the school authorities.
Sonia, along with her brothers Hassan Khan and Faisal Khan, are all born with hearing and speech impairments. They are students of a government school for the deaf at Timergara, Lower Dir, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Due to no secondary schools available for special children in the area, the three siblings, along with many other special needs children, were forced to stay uneducated after completing six years of basic education.
Call it K-P authorities’ bad governance or the weak and corrupt education structure in Pakistan, the school administrations have been unable to make arrangements for further educating students with special needs. Sonia and her siblings’ current school is located in a rented building and lacks all the necessary facilities which should be provided to children with special needs. Amongst other shortcomings is the shortage of trained staff and proper infrastructure, which more or less, is the issue of every public school throughout the country.
It has been several months since Sonia and her classmates have been out of school. They are waiting for K-P government to fulfil their basic demand of education. In K-P, the ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is spending a huge amount of the provincial budget on education, as compared to any other province. However, they are painting all the students with the same brush and are not taking into consideration the fact that appropriate institutions, facilities, and staff that are required for educating children with special needs.
There has always a lapse between the rhetoric and implementation in Pakistan on the government’s part, especially when it comes to public health and education. There is an estimate of 1.25 million deaf children in Pakistan. A minute percentage of them receive education from private schools specialised for deaf children. But Sonia and many like her are living in remote areas, where private schools are scarce and not an option.
According to Sonia, when her application was turned down by the school authorities, due to no secondary schools present in Malakand division for special children, she was left with two options – either stay at home and help her mother in house chores, or make her muted voice heard beyond provincial borders.
Before Sonia, several students with special needs were left with no choice but to give up and stay at home. They were considered to be mentally or physically handicapped and a burden on the society. Sonia unmuted herself and demanded education rights for children like her, through peaceful protests and social media campaigns.
She convinced her classmates to help her raise these issues to the local authorities. The children held small and peaceful demonstrations outside the Timergara press club. Her father, Ameer Zad, also raised his voice supporting his three special children. They managed to take the issue to the local elected representatives and ministers and made contacts with philanthropists. However, initially, all their efforts were in vain.
Sonia decided to take her plea a step further by taking her demands to social media, due to which it soon turned into a movement. Her constant tweets to media personnel, social media activists from different political parties and media houses made a huge difference. Her voice reached across borders which is when BBC Urdu covered her story with details of the problems and shortcomings such children are facing in K-P and other provinces of Pakistan.
— Sonia Khan (@SoniaSohny) October 12, 2015
— Sonia Khan (@SoniaSohny) October 11, 2015
This specific tweet became my devoir for this cause:
— Sonia Khan (@SoniaSohny) October 12, 2015
According to Sonia, on October 9th, the administration provided temporary space to these children, however, they will not get any admission receipt or year-end certificate at the end of the year.
Get back to school today. Temporary 7th grade class arranged. Our struggle will remain continue till the establishment of secondary school
— Sonia Khan (@SoniaSohny) October 9, 2015
All these children want is the opportunity of further education in order to become useful citizens of the society, instead of being labelled as a burden.
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