Inclusive education is the need of the hour. It helps build friendships and inculcate mutual respect and understanding. Patricia Mascarenhas investigates why inclusive education is not successful in India and what is the way forward
A majority of differently abled children go to special schools, away from their peers who go to regular schools. However, the Right to Education (RTE) Act, introduced in 2012 allows children with special needs to pursue mainstream education.
All students, irrespective of their impairment, should be educated in mainstream schools. "If you check Ch 2 (2) of the RTE Act, it says that a child with 'disability', as defined by the Persons with Disability Act 1995 and the National Trust Act, has the right to free and compulsory education as per the provisions of Ch V of the PWD Act," informs Pallavi Lotlikar, project manager, Saraswati Mandir Trust. To put this very simply, children with visual impairment, low vision, hearing impairment, leprosy-cured, loco-motor disability, mental retardation, mental illness, autism, cerebral palsy and multiple disability have the right to study in a regular school environment till the age of 18 years. "The RTE rules for children without disability are till completion of elementary education or class VIII or 14 years of age but for children with disability is till 18 years of age," informs Lotikar.
However, though some schools practice inclusive education, a majority of children with special needs still do not receive any formal education. "The main problem is that noone is aware or concerned about the provisions for special kids," says Lotikar. Nitin Wadhwani, founder-director, Citizens Association for Child Rights agrees, "It is not only important to provide infrastructure like ramps, toilets, accessibility to laboratories, playground, etc but also to identify and support children with learning and mental disabilities."
There are multiple interpretations of the RTE, which is another reason why many redundant laws that are being followed and existing laws are being violated. "Government departments NGO's dealing with special schools think that 'special education is inclusive education. There is a conceptual lack in understanding the RTE clause on inclusive education," explains Mithu Alur, chairperson, ADAPT adding that inclusive education does not refer only to children with special needs, it is high-quality education individualised to each child's needs.
Lack of flexibility in curriculum, affordability, being bullied in the class and not getting adequate attention from the teachers who are not trained to teach children with special needs are other contributing factors to this situation. "Inclusive education is bound to fail if the teachers or principals are not qualified and if children with disabilities are treated as a burden and passive participants in a classroom," warns Lotikar. Alur adds that UGC's Teacher Preparation in Special Education (TEPSE) Scheme prepares teachers to teach children with special need in special schools. IGNOU also concentrates on special rather than inclusive education. "Not much is known about inclusive education. They need to look at inclusive education training," she advises.
"Inclusive education is a guaranteed long term investment with excellent returns but a very very high premium that we all have to contribute towards in the short-term," says Alur. Children with special needs (CWSN) are unable to cope with mainstream schools. "Lack of adequate support from the authorities and the society which still views disability only on sympathetic grounds leads to insufficient opportunities for inclusion," says Wadhwani adding post completion of primary education, there aren't sufficient secondary schools or vocational training centres for child with special needs which allow them to progress and become independent in life. This has resulted in many children not getting fair chance on inclusive education.
However despite the hurdles, there are a number of CWSN who have trained in mainstream schools and are doing really well. Rucha Shere, a child with a down syndrome is one such example. After completing HSC from SNDT Women's University, Shere is currently pursuing BA. "We had to do a lot of school hopping when she was younger. Being around other children in a mainstream environment, Rucha progressed, watching them do things, she too started thinking in a similar manner," says Sunil Shere, parent.
This proves that a society needs to be and think inclusive, the law will only reinforce it. Of course, if not practiced with correct methodology and appropriate teachers, it will not work. A strong and inclusive public school system and a vigilant government, media and community is the only answer for an equal and fair education system. "Every school should be audited and certified RTE Compliant, which also means ensuring Inclusive Education in the school, not only with physical infrastructure, but also specially trained teachers for these children and based on compliance, the registration and various grants to these schools should be provided and renewed periodically," advises Wadhwani.
The Inclusive Education Clause in the RTE Act is an important step in the right direction. It also helps regular kids. When they attend classes that reflect the similarities and differences of people in the real world, they learn to appreciate diversity.