Educating inclusively

Deprived

Educating inclusively

Srijaya Char explores the need for inclusion of a more friendly curriculum for students with learning disabilities under the Sarva Siksha Abhigyan.

The philosophy “Children that learn together will learn to live together’ sounds very encouraging. But are we going in the right direction in our country? Inclusive education is not prevalent in most of the schools in our country for reasons like lack of proper infrastructure and overcrowded classes. When I am saying this, I am not talking about the ‘elite’ schools that superficially try and do this inclusion while the implementation does not seem as satisfactory as it should be.

Indeed, some objectives were included under the Constitution of India, in 2005. The main objectives of the Action Plan came under the ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhigyan’ as follows:

* To ensure that no child is denied admission in mainstream education

* To ensure that every child would have the right to access an Aanganwadi and school and no child would be turned back on the ground of disability

* To ensure that mainstream and specialist training institutions serving persons with disabilities, in the government or in the non-government sector, facilitate the growth of the cadre of teachers trained to work within the principles of inclusion

* To facilitate access of girls with disabilities and disabled students from rural and remote areas to government hostels

* To provide for home based learning for persons with severe, multiple and intellectual disability

* To promote distance education for those who require an individualized pace of learning

* To emphasize job-training and job-oriented vocational training. an understanding

*  To promote an understanding of the paradigm shift from charity to development through a massive awareness, motivation and sensitization campaign

All this seems excellent enough on paper and when a Minister puts them forth in the parliament, it seems only prudent that they will be implemented.

But let us be frank and look into the needs of the children who are included under such implementations. Unfortunately, we do not look into the delicate nuances of the mental development of children from childhood. Underprivileged children are forcibly sent to school with free books, free uniforms and they are even provided with free food. But, do the government schools have the infrastructure that is required for these children or even teachers capable of being sensitive to the needs of the learning disabled children?

When we talk about ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhigyan’, too much emphasis seems to be laid on the ‘free’ books, uniforms, and food that are being provided in the schools. Yes, underprivileged children may need them. But what about their mental development?

Expansion does not mean the physical expansion of the school building, playground, classrooms and desks. They are just infrastructure. We need to look into the children’s mental capabilities as well when we talk about ‘expansion and inclusion’. 

There are a number of terminologies that go with mental disabilities that have to be identified when the students reach their 5th or 6th years. It is a pity that most of the teachers are unaware of many of the terminologies that go with learning disabilities even in elite schools. There could be vision problems, auditory problems, behavioral problems, stammering, reading and writing problems.

These can be detected by observant teachers. But the problem occurs when the teachers fail to recognise such differences and label them as mental retardation. Such cases are most certainly clinical problems that can only be diagnosed by specialists in the field, who can identify dyslexia, disgraphia, discalculia, autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders.

Some thought needs to be given to students with such problems. Is it right on the part of the school to include children with severe problems with other children who are normal? They may face peer ridicule or pressure and could isolate themselves.

This creates further problems. It is perfectly alright to include students with mild syndromes that can be corrected by the teacher by being patient and tolerant. But certain disorders that require clinical attention may need segregation for genuine beneficial reasons. 

We need to term these problems ‘learning differences’ rather than ‘learning disabilities’. It is cruel to call them ‘disabled’. There are several students with Cerebral Palsy, who have done very well in the examinations, and not just because they were included with the other classes, but because they were educated by special teachers who knew how to handle them.

Exclusion does not mean excluding them all the time. They can mingle with all the other students for sports, dance, music, art, theatre, annual day, sports day, and all other activities. But for the purpose of academics, they will surely benefit when they are in a separate class This will provide them with the opportunity of learning what they ‘can’ learn and not what is thrust upon them. 

It may also be that children with such problems might otherwise be very talented in other activities, say painting, sports, dancing, etc. Such students need to be encouraged to pursue such interests, even if it means that the school needs to relax on the timings and examination schedules in their particular cases. Making room for such instances would motivate all sorts of students to approach their academics with better interest.

Individual Education Program (IEP) is very prevalent in the western countries. It takes into account the learning differences among students with special needs concerning academics, while framing the curriculum, separately for such children.

It is sad that we do not even have a solid NCLD (National Centre For Learning Disabilities), let alone an IEP! There are a few organizations that cater to such needs, but they are far from entering the mainstream education and inculcating it as a regular practise.

Further, the inclusion of such initiatives needs to start with a law in this regard. Otherwise, the special help provided by such wonderful organizations will only go in favour of those with the means to pay for it, and not those included under the Sarva Siksha Abhigyan!   

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