Inclusive education: learning support key

Inclusivity plays a crucial role in building a strong society, in which every person is assured of equal opportunity in all facets of life. Access to good quality education for all citizens is a prerequisite in a developing country like India, which is home to 1.3 billion people.

The 2011 Census indicates that the country has 26.8 million people with disabilities, with only half of them being literate and just 8.5% of them being graduates and above — a clear indication of how students with disabilities are still combating exclusion from education at all levels. For decades, India, along with the rest of the world, has been involved in an intense dialogue on inclusive education. Taking a cue from developed countries, where special education is automatically a part of the regular curriculum, the country is slowly following suit. 

A scrutiny of India’s policies and programmes shows that over the years, several social groups have stepped in to provide education to children with disabilities and make school and college curriculum accessible to all learners.

However, implementation of these policies — devised around social and academic inclusion for people with disabilities — remains uncertain. The lack of ownership of policy implementation is why millions of students with disabilities are not able to fulfil their education and career goals, especially with respect to their interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education.

Inclusive education is about teaching all students under one roof and providing the ones with special needs full access to adequate services.

At the same time, it is also important to take into consideration each student’s unique learning profile and help them develop adequate skills to function smoothly through school and college life.

At present, school students with disabilities tend to get limited support to acquire the necessary skill level needed to even apply to college. From physical accessibility to academic accessibility, students with disabilities need a well thought-through learning support plan, which can encourage them to pursue and complete their education. Such support requires a tailored approach to each student’s special needs. The responsibility of ensuring that all students, irrespective of their disabilities, get to exercise their right to education lies with education institutions at all levels.

Before setting the course for inclusive education, it is important to understand that persons with disabilities are not the ones with only sensory or physical impairments, but invisible learning difficulties as well. Recognised under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016, these include: Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, and Executive Function Disorder (EFD) like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Taking cognisance of persons with disabilities, some higher education institutions in the country are evaluating their environment for inclusivity. In their pursuit to find better pedagogies, a few reputed universities and colleges are investing in devising ways to enable a suitable learning support system.

With an increasing focus on offering diversity and inclusion in classrooms, some institutes have set up departments devoted to identifying and focusing on students with learning and physical impairments.

They may conduct needs assessments to determine the extent of learning difficulties and identify the cognitive and academic profile of a student to help them perform their best.

Other appropriate resources or infrastructure requirements to help remove barriers to higher education for students, irrespective of their physical or learning limitations, include: financial aid, assistive technology for an improved academic experience, digitised reading materials, access to computers with assistive devices, choice of examination methods, maintaining accessible websites, etc. In addition, promoting open access and open educational resources to students with disabilities go a long way in furthering education for these students.

Going forward, to scale-up the learning support systems at universities, all stakeholders including policymakers, educationists, political leaders, media and, most importantly, the people with disabilities must come together and collaborate to reduce barriers and make education accessible to all.

Another important stakeholder is the family of a student with disability. Their resolve to demand as well as provide accessible education to their child from the very beginning is central to inclusive education. It’s imperative to prepare these students for primary school and give them enough tools to succeed once they are in school. Taking it forward from there, higher education entities then need to support the transition and curricular modifications to prevent dropouts after school.

Building inclusivity in the system is not only about bringing people with disabilities into the classroom but also sensitising society on different individual needs, thereby bringing about an attitudinal change. Practising inclusion in education is not an experiment but a value that needs thorough commitment to achieve ‘Education For All’.

(The writer is Director, Office of Learning Support, Ashoka University, Sonepat)

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Inclusive education: learning support key

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