It is time we upgrade our infrastructure, broaden mentalities, look away from traditional teaching methods and incorporate new ones for specially-abled children. By Sakshi Sharma
Conversations about inclusive education for differently-abled children in mainstream schools is a debate that has been alive for a while but its implementation is a challenge and hence, yet to be completely realised.
‘The State of the Education Report for India 2019: Children with disabilities’ reveals that there is a steady drop in the schooling of disabled children with each successive level every year. Armaan Ali, executive director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, NCPEDP and a member of the editorial board of the report, says, “This is a phenomenon which has steadily been present since 2002 and is even reported in various government policies. However, I don’t see the government taking any steps to such dropouts of disabled children or to promote inclusive education.”
One can cite a plethora of reasons for this drop, right from the lack of proper facilities in schools to the policy framing body, Ministry of Human Resource Development. Armaan says, “There is no scheme or policy in HRD ministry to promote inclusive education. How do you see children being included in it? There is no concept of pedagogy or teachers training or accessible transport for children with disabilities. That is the reason for this continuous decrease.” This is making generations of children with disability lag behind and is likely to put us as a nation back into the dark ages. Radhika Alkazi, founder and managing trustee of Astha alternative strategies for the handicapped, says, “Right from the beginning, there are many barriers for the child in attending the school. The roads in Delhi are so narrow that a child living in an urban slum will find it difficult to even walk. Once you reach inside the school, there are a lot of pushback factors. The foremost is getting admission because they say, we can’t deal with this child.” She further says that we have not provisioned these children in our system. Every child has his/her own needs and if you don’t fulfill those or the education system doesn’t know how to do it, then it becomes very difficult for the child to continue his/her schooling. It is very important for our schools to gear up for this ‘special child.’
The founder secretary of Koshish School (a school for specially-abled children), Mridul Singh says, “Person with Disabilities Act, 2016, says that all the disabled children should have proper facilities at schools such as ramps, lifts and escalators for their mobility and schools should be equipped with braille maps, tactile maps and other study material to facilitate disabled schooling. But no one is there to check if it’s even implemented at the ground level. She feels that during the policy formulation, government should seek suggestions from people like her who interact with the disabled at the root level. “Sensitisation at the community level is needed. We are not yet ready to welcome a disabled child,” adds she. It is the need of the hour for us as a society to not only recognise the needs of the disabled but also meet them. Along with upgrading our infrastructure, we also need to broaden our mentalities and attitudes towards them.
Parents play a vital role in uplifting a differently-abled child. They can empower, encourage and make him/her aware of his/her potential. Mridul says, “Parents feel that getting a disabled certificate and pension is enough for the survival of the child. They are not aware of the child’s potential and this sets them back.” Reeta Sharma, a parent of two intellectually-disabled children, says, “It is a challenge to handle them but if we take proper care, things can turn out well. My elder son, Nikhil Sharma is 20 and is taking a vocational training. Two years ago, he won a gold medal at the national hockey game at Gujarat. He also got a scholarship for the same. I am proud of him, he is not disabled, he is special.” But when it comes to his independence and stability, she is worried. “Society mei uthna baithna mushkil rehta hai. They are not aware of how the world beyond the closed doors is,” adds she.
Disability discrimination has been a major reason for the setback. When asked about not admitting them in a normal school, Reeta says, “I sent him to a government school but the students’ behaviour left much to be desired. So I had to get him out of there. I don’t think there’s any level of awareness in the society regarding this.” School is an institution which brings everybody together, if a child is left out it is our responsibility to help them get a headstart in their life. It becomes a vicious circle, you don’t get a headstart, you don’t go to school, you don’t get a job which further leads to poverty.
If this situation pertains, we will never be able to empower the disabled. And even though government has attempted to take measures and make policies that are inclusive for these people, their implementation efforts have not resulted in a more inclusive system of education. Students are forced to leave the school due to their parents’ poor economic condition and to work to help their parents make ends meets. Another serious challenge is the fact that most disabled people are still excluded from equal access to mainstream education. Adding to this, large class sizes pose another challenge for its implementation.
Researches have shown that most students learn and perform better when exposed to the richness of the general education curriculum. Some of the benefits include: friendships, social skills, personal principles, comfort level with people who have special needs, and caring classroom environments. Their classmates also experience growth in social cognition as they often become more aware of the needs of others. An interesting side effect is that these parents report that they also feel more comfortable with people with special needs because of their children’s experiences.