Making Inclusive Education A Reality For Children With
One cannot argue adequately enough the importance of education and its over-arching influence on every aspect of a person’s life, least of all on that of a person with disability (PWD). Discriminated against, socially, politically and economically, education is arguably their only means to long term empowerment and social respectability, and yet sixty years on, India has rather unimpressive statistics to show for the level of literacy in the country. About 38% of the country’s population is illiterate, the rate is 15% higher among PWDs. Conservatively, there are about 10 million Children with Disabilities (CWD) in the country and about 90% of them are out of school. When one tries to understand the problem faced by CWDs in accessing education, one cannot help but stumble upon the larger problem of education facing the country. The education budgets in the country are falling instead of increasing. The Common Minimum Programme of the UPA Government promised to gradually hike the education budget to at least 6% of the GDP; however three years later it continues to linger at around 3%. Numerous States like Karnataka have a budget of 2.25% lower than the national average. Pedagogical methodology continues to be archaic, rote based, and the dis-empowered approach of the education system continues to view the educational needs of CWDs as a non-issue. School is considered a past time for the CWD and their presence in the classroom, a burden to the teacher. And yet, the right to education is a Fundamental Right of all children including those with disabilities.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA)
For a long while education for CWDs had been paid only lip service. However, with the launch of the SSA in 2001, the educational needs of CWDs for the first time ever, got a budgetary allocation and an opportunity to study in a common school with non-disabled children their age. The key word that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) helds for CWDs was ‘Inclusive Education’. According to the definition employed by the Government of India while formulating the Action Plan for Inclusive Education for Children and Youth with Disabilities in 1995, “Inclusive education, as an approach, seeks to address the learning needs of all children, youth and adults with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion. It implies all learners, young people – with or without disabilities – being able to learn together through access to common pre-school provisions, schools and community educational settings with an appropriate network of support services.”
Most people, especially those sensitive to disability issues concede that the imperatives of social justice and equality mandate the education of physically and mentally challenged children and that too in a happy environment. Special schools are often un-stimulating environments that are poor replicas of real-life. Most PWDs who have studied in special schools feel these spaces deprived them of an opportunity to develop their confidence and engage in real life adjustments. In a cash strapped economy like India, where the education budget has been declining, inclusive education holds the key to ensuring successful education of the over 10 million CWDs in the country. An inclusive school is also a microcosm of society and it is in this school environment that non-disabled children can be sensitized to all types of people around them.
India is signatory to numerous International Conventions and has a fairly comprehensive set of laws itself
· UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons 1975
· The Salamanca Declaration 1994
· The Biwako Millennium Framework for Action 2002
· The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006
· Article 21A of the Indian Constitution – guarantees education as a fundamental right.
· The 86th Constitutional Amendment of India Act 2002 – makes it mandatory for the Government to provide free and compulsory education to “all children of the age of 6-14 years”, with its preamble clarifying that “all” includes children with disabilities as well.
· The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, Chapter 5, Section 26 – ensures the above and more. To read the Act visit http://nhrc.nic.in/Publications/Disability/Annexure-1.html
While the Law itself is fairly comprehensive, not much has been done in the country by way of implementation. The primary problem being that the knowledge of the law is still very rudimentary both among bureaucrats and PWDs, who should have been demanding its implementation. Not much thought has gone into the effective policy formulation for its implementation and nor has any monitoring system with time frames been put in place, thus CWDs continue to struggle to access even a basic education. PWDs being a tiny unorganized population have not been able to successfully lobby for their rights and so, if one is fortunate to see some implementation of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 it is only in urban areas. The Act itself is in dire need of amendment, to bring in punitive measures for those breaching it, to ensure easy access and speedy redressal before the law and to ensure its implementation within a stipulated time frame.
Hurdles in achieving Inclusive Education
While the intentions of policy makers may be genuine, there are a whole set of problems which crop up when CWDs attempts to exercise their right to education. Some problems that they encounter are situational, others bureaucratic and still others a result of poor understanding of village level scenarios which have impacted policy formulation. When addressing the educational needs of CWDs it is essential to remember that 90% of CWDs are in rural areas, where even able-bodied children struggle to access education. Secondly, rehabilitation facilities funded by both NGOs and the Government are concentrated in urban areas and so CWDs in rural areas are pushed to the margin of priorities. One of the major problems which hinder children with disabilities from attending school is the distance from home to school and the need for special transportation to commute. Public transport in rural areas is little and far between. Children on wheelchairs, wearing callipers or on elbow crutches find it extremely difficult to get in and out of buses, while most areas however, simply lack transportation and the student is required to walk. SSA does have a provision for providing a transport cost of Rs 400 p.a per student but it is grossly inadequate to hire private transport.
Most schools have been given grants under SSA to modify the school and make them accessible to CWDs. But these modifications have been restricted to constructing ramps and putting railings for children with locomotor disabilities. Since specifications have not been given for these constructions, it is not unusual to find the gradient of the ramp too steep, and the child unable to push his/her wheelchair without assistance. Little or no attention has been paid to making toilets accessible and this results in health problems for CWDs, nor is any attention given to ensure proper lighting for students with low vision, tactile tiles and Braille signage for children with a visual impairment.
Another major problem is the virtual non existence of disabled friendly study material. For example a student with visual impairment requires audio tapes containing the syllabus; needs to be taught Braille and be provided with a Braille slate. None of this is done and thus students with visual impairments who do attend school simply sit as mere spectators. A similar situation arises for children with hearing impairments who need to be taught sign language. In a survey done by the author in over 50 schools in Kolar District of Karnataka and in urban Bangalore, not a single teacher was found who knew how to communicate in sign language, nor was a single student found who had been taught to communicate in sign language. This is clearly indicative that no teaching and minimal learning is happening among children with speech impairments. Presently, of the two teachers in each village school in Karnataka, one is trained to handle children with disabilities. She is expected to deal with all types of disabilities and she is expected to do this over and above her regular class, which may range from teaching students of Std I-IV or Std V-VII!!
Teachers were found to be extremely poor in pedagogical methodology as they have received very rudimentary training, if any, on disability. They used teaching aids but these were designed for non disabled children. While the SSA has put an elaborate man power infrastructure in place in the form of Block Resource Centres and Integrated Education Resource Teachers (IERTs), the staff is meagre, untrained and over stretched.
The way ahead
When one thinks carefully of the millions of CWDs who are denied their right to an education, one cannot fail to realise the tremendous waste of human potential and the violation of the child’s fundamental right. The SSA maybe a great policy on paper but when it comes to implementation it is still a hotchpotch of experiments and trial and error schemes. There is an urgent need for greater commitment and decisive action from Governments at both the State and Central level and a need for greater involvement of the various stakeholders. To begin with there is a need for a policy change to make the SSA document flexible enough to incorporate local needs. The SSA document must incorporate the educational experiences of older PWDs, parents of CWDs, the teaching fraternity, CWDs, educationalists, concerned citizens and voluntary organizations to make it a vibrant document that achieves what it promises to do. Parents of CWDs are the stakeholders with the greatest interest, involving them in the education process of their child will ensure follow-up at home. There is also an urgent need for training and employing an adequate numbers of teachers to handle the special needs of CWDs, drawing up a syllabus that can be uniformly taught, designing teaching aids and handing them out in kits so that teachers can use these aids. There is also a need for roping in the village panchayats, women self help groups and others to develop a local monitoring team.
With The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan policy document (besides the others) we have a fairly comprehensive legislation in place, the time now is to use these legislations to demand the rights to inclusive education for CWDs. Laws like the Right to Information Act 2005 can be used to instill transparency and ensure that legislations are implemented and when breached challenged in the appropriate forum. If not, we will push yet another generation of persons with disabilities into the unending cycle of poverty, disempowerment and misery.
* This article is based on the authors experience in working with inclusive education for CWDs in Karnataka, specifically Kolar District and Bangalore Urban.
(The author is a founding member of disAbilityFirst, a disability group working on advocacy issues and can be contacted at email@example.com
This article was published in Combat Law, Volume 7, Issue 1, Jan-Feb 08