By K.S correspondent
Some time back I came across an interesting, but disturbing situation about the kind of schooling we have in our state. One of the kindergarten kids, very low at negotiating with the teaching techniques of the teachers in a reputed private school, was forcibly discharged from the school for being ‘disabled’. This was a shock to his parents and their arguments couldn’t win over the hard attitude of the school authorities. Finally a non – governmental organization (NGO) came to their rescue, adopted their child and today the same kid is fast growing like other normal school going children. Had the child been allowed to stay in the school and handled with special care, he would have done an extra bit in his studies? This is what the NGO officials say.
This case made me curious to go a little bit deep into the problem. I effortlessly laid hand on many such incidents where in the name of disability factor, children have been denied admission in mainstream schools and forced into special schools meant exclusively for these kinds of special children. Immediately, the Right to Education Act, which came into force two years back, struck my mind. The Act envisages that every child between the ages of 6 to 14 years has the right to free and compulsory education. The RTE Act provides a ripe platform to reach the unreached, with specific provisions for disadvantaged groups, such as child labourers, migrant children, children with special needs, or those who have a “disadvantage owing to social, cultural economical, geographical, linguistic, gender or such other factor.
The Act was to trigger an atmosphere where a classroom, irrespective of anyone likes it or not, was set to become more diverse. But I couldn’t also locate any significant achievement of the Act. During the two years, the Act is yet to register even little achievements. Besides, the Act is silent about the special children who have special needs. Here I am referring to inclusive education. This means that all students, regardless of handicapping condition or severity, will be in a regular classroom. In other words, the inclusion will be enabling all children to learn and participate effectively within mainstream school systems, without segregation. As experts put it, inclusive education is about shifting the focus from altering disabled people to fit into society to transforming society, and the world, by changing attitudes, removing barriers and providing the right support.
It’s worth mentioning that the concept and philosophy of inclusive education gained international popularity from the 1990s, with The United Nations inclusion education conference in Thailand, promoting the idea of “Education For All”. Then the 1994 conference on inclusive education in Spain led to the policy statement that proposed that the development of schools with an inclusive orientation was the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, providing effective education for majority of children, and ultimately improving the cost-effectiveness of the entire educational system (UNESCO, 1994).
As on date, one of the aspects of our educational system that is hardly talked about is the education of students with special needs. We have few special schools for them but that is not inclusion which is shifting in services from `care of the disabled child’ to his `education and personal development’. During mainstream schooling these special kids need special attention, which the schools have to ensure. There are laws in place which make it mandatory for all schools to have infrastructure available in the school for special children and they cannot deny admission to such kids. Besides, the schools have to employee trained teachers capable of imparting education to these children.
So far we haven’t seen any school here abiding by the law. What we need is to restructure the present system for the sake of these special kids. The existing physical infrastructure and teaching methodologies should be fine tuned to meet their needs so that admission in mainstream education is not denied. Government should monitor the enrollment in schools of disabled children. Among other things, the schools should ensure availability of study material, talking text books, reading machines and computers with speech software for them. Let all our mainstream schools are made disabled friendly by next five years. Last, but not the least. Inclusive education training programmes for teachers should be prioritized to ensure exclusive success of the inclusive mission.