Integration in the true sense


As her little boy grew up, Kavitha Krishnamoorthy had to confront a question — which would be the right school for him?

While it may be normal for parents to wrestle with this question, Kavitha had a reason to ponder over it longer and deeper than many others. For Ananth, her son, has autism and, as Kavitha feared, schools were less than welcoming when they learnt about his condition. A few that did want to admit him had virtually no idea of his requirements.

After wondering if it would be possible at all for Ananth to go to school, Kavitha managed to put him in a Montessori school run by persons with experience in special education.
Now seven, Ananth is in a school that knows how to accommodate his needs, but parents who have children like him in the cities don’t find private schools so forthcoming.

Indeed, this continues to happen in a state where the government system has emerged as a shining model of inclusive education. According to Ruma Banerjee, Managing Trustee of Seva In Action, Karnataka has set high standards in implementing inclusion amongst its schools by announcing the first ever inclusive education policy in the country.

“Karnataka has a long history of mainstreaming children with disabilities since the 1980s,” Banerjee, whose organisation has worked for the past 15 years in helping the state government adopt inclusive education, says.  “And since a number of projects of GOI and UN agencies have been pilot-tested here, there have been opportunities for major learning in this area,” she adds.

Rights-based approach

Traditionally, integrated education has been thought as the ideal approach to bring persons with disability into the mainstream system. It was thought to be a gradual process from a special environment to the mainstream one, equipping the child to sustain herself in the larger school dominated by her able-bodied peers.

Inclusive education, on the other hand, has been thought as a right-based, participatory approach in which the system has been altered to accommodate all children without exception. Among other things, it calls for accessible buildings, inclusive teaching practices and a system that recognises the special child’s right to education.

Curriculum adaptation

In Karnataka, Bijapur — a district with 80 per cent of its citizens living in rural areas — has by far the best model of inclusion in terms of curriculum adaptation. Using Inclusive Education Resource Teachers (IERTs), trained under the Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA) programme, the district education department has tried several innovative methods for accomplishing the competencies prescribed for the class by the curriculum.

The result was TUDITA, a handbook for Standard 5 Kannada and Science subjects which can be useful to all children. “The handbook is based on the samarthyas (competencies) prescribed for the subject,” says  Rajendra Prasad, District Director for Primary Instruction for Bijapur.

“For instance, children in Standard 5 are taught the functions of various mechanical devices such as pulleys in Science. To enable Children With Special Needs (CWSN) achieve the competencies prescribed under the curriculum, we enable them to physically explore the functioning of the devices (as a task),” he explains. A visually challenged child, for instance, has the chance to touch and feel the device and operate it to understand how it functions.

“The idea of developing this is to stop CWSN from dropping out as they progress to higher classes,” Rajendra Prasad says. “We are keen that children should not suffer on account of an inaccessible education system and we have taken efforts to ensure we can make the system flexible enough to accommodate all children.”

As a testing ground for several pilot projects since the 1980s, Karnataka has been able to adopt and implement inclusive education practices before other states. The state government has the prescribed ‘three-resource teachers-per-block’. The state also has extensive training programmes for government teachers in IE practices.

Discrimination

However, Banerjee agrees that implementation of inclusive education in the government system has only partly solved the problem. “Persuading private schools —which is extremely necessary for inclusion to happen in urban areas — has proved to be a big challenge for us,” she says.

“Besides sensitising a few, we could not largely implement the concept in the private schools. It is unfortunate that most of them are not receptive to the idea,” she adds. Kavitha and a few other parents of CWSN run a voluntary group called Kilikili, which has been working to persuade the system at large to accommodate inclusion.

“Most private schools turn down special children, particularly if they have conditions like autism,” she says.  “They fear that such children may have behavioural issues and therefore feel they cannot be accommodated into the school. There are also a group of institutions who are interested to admit CWSN, but do not know how to make them part of the classroom activities. Some schools, which claim to be inclusive, have special classrooms for CWSN and attempt inclusion only in certain extra-curricular activities such as staging concerts or dramas,” she explains.

The problem, Kavitha says, is lack of a comprehensive training system for those teaching in private schools or managing them. Though this could affect challenged children at large, Kavitha feels children with behavioural challenges suffer exclusion more than the others.

Lobbying for incorporating inclusion in the recently proposed Right To Education (RTE) Bill by the Union HRD ministry, Kavitha believes that the system would gradually change to understand the need for inclusion.

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