- There are around 3 lakh students in 3,000 schools for children with special needs
- 74 such schools enlisted for Monthly Pay Order (MPO) facility
- Teachers have been demanding MPO enlistment since 2020
- Many schools for intellectually impaired shut down due to lack of funding
While accommodating persons with special needs is a challenge everywhere, it is tough in Bangladesh in that the institutions preparing the disabled children for integrating into society have been facing a constant funds crisis.
Currently, around 3,000 schools for disabled children with about 3 lakh students are struggling to run their operations due to a lack of funding. A number of schools have already shut down for a lack of funding.
The teachers of these schools have been demonstrating across the country for getting the government's Monthly Pay Order (MPO) enlistment.
Sources at the social welfare ministry say they have brought only 74 schools for intellectually impaired and autistic children under the government's Monthly Pay Order (MPO) facility so far. They are also considering bringing 50 more such institutions under this system.
The teachers said it will be tough for them to run the schools if the government delays bringing these institutions under the MPO system.
Last week they submitted a memorandum to the prime minister and the social welfare ministry demanding MPO enlistment immediately but they are yet to get a response.
The Society for the Welfare of the Intellectually Disabled (SWID), Bangladesh has so far given recognition to and assisted 539 schools for disabled children across the country, but currently, only 73 of them are active.
A number of professionals, social workers and parents of disabled children formed the organisation in 1977, when most in the country had little awareness about the education or integration into society of persons with intellectual disability.
Jowaherul Islam Mamun, mentor of SWID Bangladesh, told TBS that they held an annual general meeting this year with the representatives of schools under this organisation, but only 73 representatives took part in the meeting.
"Many institutions are in a budget crunch and some of them have stopped their activities. The school authorities have every intention of running their schools, but they need financial support," he said.
One such school, "Sariakandi Intellectually Impaired and Autistic School" in Bogura, was established in 2013 with the hope of providing education and care for special children.
The school continued operation with about 150 students for three years and applied for MPO enlistment. But when they failed to get enlisted, the school finally closed permanently in 2016 due to lack of funding. There is no other similar school in the area.
Sharif Hossain Shah, executive secretary of the school, told The Business Standard the teachers worked at the school voluntarily, but when the getting enlisted in the MPO system became uncertain, they left.
Kawnia BP Intellectually Impaired and Autistic School, established in 2015 in Rangpur, has also closed since the Covid-19 hit the country last year. The school managing committee cannot reopen the institution for fund shortage and they do not know when they will get MPO enlisted. They are waiting for the government's response to restart their academic activities again.
Md Tofazzel Hossain, president of the school, told TBS they had 100 students and seven teachers before the pandemic hit.
"We have been facing a severe financial crisis for many years. Now we have no alternative but to keep the school closed unless we get government assistance," he added.
Md Anisuzzaman, managing director (additional secretary) of the National Foundation for Development of the Disabled Persons, told TBS that most of the schools for disabled children are up to class five, while some of them operate up to class eight.
"We just supervise the schools and manage their salaries. The ministry takes decisions about the MPO enlistment," he said.
Teachers take to the streets
About 500 teachers of schools for the intellectually disabled children observed a sit-in programme for around seven days in front of the National Museum last week. They also submitted a memorandum to the prime minister on Thursday.
Arifur Rahman Apu, convener of the Bangladesh Disabled School Teachers Association, told TBS that they would continue their movement until their demands are met.
"Most of the schools are in a vulnerable situation. The teachers do not get any salary from the government. How will the teachers take care of the disabled children if they themselves are in hardship? The MPO enlistment is now essential for the teachers," he said.
"These children do not get any scholarship for their education. They do not have sufficient books. They are facing a food crisis. The equipment in therapy centres are also inadequate. So the government must look into these problems," he said.
Belal Ahmed, founder of Prottoy Intellectually Impaired and Autistic School, said, "We are trying to provide good services to the children and that is why we need adequate funds."
Shibani Bhattacharjee, additional secretary (institutions and disabilities) of the Ministry of Social Welfare, told TBS they are working on finalising a list of the schools for disabled children for MPO enlistment.
Education experts call for more initiatives
Dr Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus of Brac University, said the government should allocate a special budget for the schools for intellectually impaired children as they are still deprived of their basic rights.
Dr Mohammad Ali Zinnah, professor of the Institute of Education and Research, told TBS there are a few educational institutions for the special children which the government funds, but there is a need for more institutions to ensure facilities for all the special children.
Dr Zinnah said the number of educational institutions for special children receiving government funding is very low, and this number should be increased to ensure education and care for all the children with special needs.
"The government is responsible for providing education and food for the special children. They need standard schools. The government can bring the private institutions under strict rules and regulations by giving financial aid," he added.
Jowaherul Islam Mamun, mentor of SWID Bangladesh, said it is necessary to set up schools for children with special needs at each union across the country.