Falling through the gaps: for special children,inclusive education still a distant dream

For years,as Mohd Shahrukh sat at home listening to his mother cry for him and the happy shrieks of his siblings playing outside his jhuggi,the 10-year-old visually impaired child felt lonely and hopeless.

Written by Chinki Sinha | New Delhi | Published: March 2, 2009 2:34 am

For years,as Mohd Shahrukh sat at home listening to his mother cry for him and the happy shrieks of his siblings playing outside his jhuggi,the 10-year-old visually impaired child felt lonely and hopeless.

No school would take him and his parents were too poor to pay the extra funds for the few schools in the city that had special educators.

“It was like hitting the wall,” Shahrukh said. I couldn’t go to school because no school would take me and my parents are poor.”

In 2008,he took admission at Salwan Public School where 23 other visually impaired children,mostly from the lower-income groups,were already studying. Learning wasn’t easy. He spent hours after school with teachers and Principal Vandana Puri,who helped him and others bridge the gap between them and other students.

Shahrukh is one among very few children who have found a school that provides inclusive education and prepares these children to be self-sufficient in the city. Most of the Capital’s specially abled children are still routinely edged out of the education system.

While most government schools still lack the basic infrastructure to cater to disabled children,private schools either choose to show them the door or provide educational facilities for only certain kinds of disabilities.

In spite of special emphasis put on inclusive education in India’s education policy and the Right to Education draft bill that states that schools must admit disabled children,there is a wide chasm between legislation and implementation.

Certain private schools have taken up the initiative of integrating such children in their classrooms,but most others simply looked the other way.

Children who have been admitted to such schools say they feel isolated and are even ridiculed,often lagging behind and struggling to be at par,say parents.

For private schools,to provide inclusive education is a major challenge. Other students sharing the same classroom need to be sensitised towards these children and their disabilities,The law states that three percent of seats in government-funded educational institutions are reserved for disabled children under the Disability Act. But the lack of infrastructure to support disabled students,from ramps to special educators,has left parents discouraged.

For private schools to cater to all disabilities as mentioned under the Disability Act is almost impossible. An infrastructural overhaul to provide access alone would cost a substantial amount,school principals say.

With the task of implementing a hike in teachers’ pay as per the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations,schools say they are struggling with a paucity of funds. “This will be an additional burden,” National Progressive Schools Conference Chairman S L Jain said. In India,laws favouring the mainstreaming of disabled children in educational institutions have existed for years now.

The draft of the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities states,“There is need for mainstreaming of persons with disabilities in the general education system through inclusive education.”

A Comprehensive Plan of Action for Children and Youth with Disabilities presented in 2005 advocates inclusive education. The vision is to make all schools “disabled-friendly” by 2020. But despite the legislation and the intent,about 15,000 disabled children are still left out of the education system in the city,says Ashok Aggarwal,an advocate.

While the Delhi High Court has directed the government to constitute two committees — monitory and advisory — to make recommendations on inclusive education in government schools,private schools have been kept out of the ambit. But Education Secretary Rina Ray has hinted that she would try to make it mandatory for private schools to accept disabled children and provide adequate infrastructure.

With inputs from Aneesha Mathur

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