The disabled prefer integrated approach

Most organisations across the country adopt the ‘integrated education’ approach at the primary school level — which is crucial for a child with disability in equipping itself with special skills as well as making progress in mainstream education.

Integrated education calls for support from ‘special teachers’ at mainstream schools. A child with visual challenge, for instance, is taught Braille and mobility by special teachers while the hearing impaired children learn sign language.

However, certain organisations prefer ‘inclusive’ approach, in which mainstream teachers are trained in handling children with disability. Organisations such as Seva-In-Action in Karnataka work closely with the state government to design training modules for teachers and are working with several district-level educational offices to ensure enrolment of children into mainstream government  schools and in incorporating accessibility into the curriculum.

Rights-based approach

“This is the ‘rights’-based approach where a child is ensured of the same level of education as the able-bodied peer,” says Ruma Banerjee, secretary and director, Seva-In-Action.

“We as NGOs have to make sure that the system becomes sensitive to the needs of children with disability. How long do we let teachers in mainstream schools say that children with disability are the responsibility of ‘special teachers’?” she asks.

However, supporters of integrated approach feel that this  would only leave children weak and vulnerable in the mainstream environment. “As NGOs, we can only facilitate integrated education,” says Raman Shankar, deputy director, educational projects, National Association for the Blind in Mumbai.

“In the case of a child with vision impairment, things like mobility needs to be taught until he/she goes to the 10th standard. If the skills are not taught properly, they would find it harder to cope with independent living,” he says.

The core question here seems to be the role of support teachers. Given that aspects like mobility or sign language are fundamental to the way a disabled child would handle itself in a social environment, it is hard to do away with them.

“In Karnataka and other states, inclusive education approach has succeeded in enrolling children with disability into mainstream schools. But will they continue after five years? Without the support system in place, the children are less inclined to continue in the schools. And what can teachers with bare minimum exposure to disability issues do when left with a large class kids to worry about?” Shankar asks.
According to Ruma, special teachers are a stumbling block for children to learn main subjects. For this reason, the Sarva Siksha Abiyan in Karnataka has in place three Inclusive Education Resource Teachers in each of its 202 blocks and has also trained about 90 per cent of its primary education teachers in methods approved by Rehabilitation Council of India to handle children with special needs.

“Without additional resources, inclusion may not succeed. But when you have children with diverse set of needs, having one special teacher who can only assist a blind or a hearing impaired kid will be a wastage of resources. So we have encouraged teachers from the system itself to take training and assist these children,” Ruma says.

In the end, the conflict between integration and inclusion seems to be the classic case of tension between tradition and modern approaches. While Karnataka has been opening itself to projects by international agencies that has enabled it to move forward in terms of inclusion, other states lack the exposure and inclination for change.

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