[AI] Special children but a not-so special approach
dl.vikas at gmail.com
Sun Mar 23 07:16:22 EDT 2008
Special children but a not-so special approach
Usha Yadav's 11-year-old daughter, Priyanka, is a dyslexic. She goes to a regular school, that follows an inclusive policy on education by admitting children
with disabilities. On paper, this sounds ideal. Not only do kids like Priyanka benefit socially from being taught alongside their non-disabled peers, it
also gives them that little extra help they need in the form of extra time during exams, the choice to opt for fewer subjects as well as trained special
educators. However, the reality of inclusion is very far from the world of good intentions inhabited by policy-makers. Most schools still do not have the
infrastructure, the resources and, more importantly, the sensitivity to handle special children. And inevitably, it is the child who is at the receiving
end. As Usha Yadav discovered. Unable to keep pace with the rest of the class, her daughter has been consistently faring poorly and now faces the prospect
of repeating a year.
So why is mainstreaming failing the very children it was supposed to help? The vital element that is missing is training, according to educators. ''Teachers
are not equipped to handle children with special needs because they are not trained. So unless core issues like training and pedagogy are addressed, the
pressure to cope will fall on the child,'' says Mithu Alur, member of the Central Advisory Board of Education and chairperson of the Spastics Society of
Incidentally, there is no dearth of policies promoting inclusive education in India. The UN Convention on Disability which was recently ratified by the
Central Government mandates equal opportunities in education for all children, including children with disabilities. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the country's
flagship program for universalisation of elementary education, pledges to ensure that every child with special needs is provided education in an appropriate
environment. Similar sentiments are echoed by the National Policy on education.
However, the crux, as usual, lies in effective implementation. Very few educational institutes are actually adopting meaningful inclusion. ''Most follow
only selective integration where students with special needs are segregated in learning centres and included only in areas like music, art or craft,''
says Ameeta Mulla Wattal, principal of Springdales School. This is just one aspect. The other is that many mainstream schools accepting children with disabilities
still consider it an act of charity rather than a necessary social responsibility. Although not many are willing to accept it openly, a child with special
needs is still regarded as more of a liability as he or she can bring down the overall grades of a class, and reflect poorly on the school's performance.
No wonder then, that implementation of inclusion remains slack. ''There is a clear lack of will to implement inclusion at all levels. Just by formulating
policies, we cannot pat ourselves on the back, and ease our conscience. What about enforcing these policies?'' points out Abdul Mabood of Snehi, an organization
that works in the field of mental healthcare.
No doubt, a mindset sensitized towards the needs of the child is essential. As things stand today, many schools are not even aware what a learning disability
is. Recalls Nirmala Mehta, whose son was diagnosed with a learning disorder, ''The principal of my son's school refused to believe that he had a learning
disability. Instead, she started blaming me for not making sure he studied properly.''
Even in schools which have a provision for special educators, there is the perennial problem of trained manpower. Another critical factor is sensitizing
the other children in the school. ''Children learn a lot by observation. It is important to encourage non-disabled students to share with their peers who
are different so that they learn to accept and respect these differences,'' says Pramila Balasundaram of Samadhan, an NGO that has successfully worked
with MCD schools to implement inclusive education.
However, despite its share of problems, inclusive education has nevertheless had some impact. Sensitivity to children with special needs has increased,
admits Wattal. But, there is still the risk that a special needs child may feel overwhelmed in a regular class unless schools make some necessary changes
such as adding infrastructure, modifying syllabi and training teachers.
Till that happens, even an ''included'' child may feel excluded.
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