Starved of funds in the wake of Covid-induced disruptions, schools for special children in Amritsar are staring at closure. This is a sad reflection of governmental apathy during a crisis towards a section of the population that even in normal times needs extra care and attention to get by. The invisibility of children with disabilities in the authorities’ plans as they go about trying to restore society to pre-Covid levels is a lacuna that must be addressed forthwith. The government funds due to the institutes must be released on priority so that they remain operational and well-oiled for the return of the special students. It will also ensure the welfare of their hard-pressed teachers, and, society in the long run.
As per Census 2011, while persons with disabilities in Punjab comprise 2.35 per cent of the total population, there are nearly one lakh differently-abled children. The state government is committed to assisting them with their education, health, jobs and special needs. However, the enforcement of the legal mandate for their inclusive growth remains a challenge. In fact, the vision enshrined in the National Action Plan for Inclusion in Education of the Children and Persons with Disabilities (MHRD, 2005) and the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (2006) calls for the setting up of more such schools and colleges, as also enabling space for the physically challenged in more normal educational institutes.
Already, the progress of special children has been stalled since the lockdown. Virtual classes have not kept pace with the unique needs of those challenged in sight, hearing or speech. It has heightened their educational barriers. Those with mental issues are worse off. The pandemic has taken a toll on their parents, too. With social backing and therapies highly curtailed, the overwhelming task of single-handedly managing such children is emotionally draining, leading to a burnout. A fiscal push can go a long way in overcoming these challenges that have been exacerbated by Covid — by the government, NGOs and philanthropists.