17-year old Arnav Jaideep Kalgutkar has high-functioning autism, which is also known as Asperger Syndrome. Student of a CBSE-affiliated regular school in Pune, Arnav had scored 99.90 per cent in JEE Main 2021 (February) session. But, he continues to face challenges in school on a day-to-day basis owing to his disability.
“From sensory to linguistic issues, I face multiple challenges daily. Because of my oral sensitivity, I tend to drink a lot of water. Like other students, one day I was drinking water in-between a lecture, the teacher snapped at me and scolded me. The teacher does not understand why I was drinking water, she took it as an act of disobedience and inattentiveness,” Arnav told indianexpress.com.
Arnav’s mother Anuprita Kalgutkar, who is a psychologist, says many teachers tried to convince her that her child has no problem, largely because his disability is not visible. She vividly remembers an instance.
“The school has a uniform with synthetic trousers. Since Arnav is sensitive towards textures, it was difficult for him to be comfortable in them for 7-8 hours. Hence, I took special permission from the school management to allow him to wear cotton pants. But, one teacher gave him a real guilt trip. He told Arnav that there is no special rule and how his practice is setting up a wrong example for the juniors,” Anuprita says.
She adds that if teachers are made aware of different disabilities and the consequences, they can better help the students in academic and personality development. “Lack of awareness leads to lack of empathy,” she says. When we talk about inclusive education for students with disabilities, it is natural to wonder if our teachers are equipped with the right skills to deal with and teach such students.
As per the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016, inclusive education is a system wherein students with and without disabilities learn together and the system of teaching and learning is suitably adapted to meet the learning needs of different types of students with disabilities.
Dr Satendra Singh, disability rights activist and professor at the University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, believes that regular teachers are not yet equipped to take up this task.
Disability is diversity
“Most regular teachers have an opinion that it is special educator’s job to teach students with disabilities but they have not yet understood that disability is a part of diversity. Educators must adopt a university design for students’ learning. The teacher training modules do not address the concept of reasonable accommodation, which is largely missing from the school education system today,” Dr Singh said.
Most classrooms have children with specific learning disabilities who need continuous support. Teachers must be helped to identify such learning disabilities early and plan specifically for their mitigation. The proposed new National Assessment Centre — PARAKH — under NEP 2020 is expected to formulate guidelines and recommend appropriate tools for conducting such assessment, from the foundational stage to higher education (including for entrance exams), to ensure equitable access and opportunities for all students with learning disabilities.
Seema Tuli is the principal of Amar Jyoti School, an inclusive school in New Delhi. She says the problem is not with the children but with educators and it is the need of the hour to train regular teachers to teach students with disabilities.
Regular B.Ed is not enough
“In regular B.Ed programme, there is only one module on inclusive education. If we go by the curriculum, it is not enough for a teacher to understand the complexities and variety of disabilities. Teacher training must not be a yearly event, the sensitivity and empowerment need to be reinforced at frequent intervals of time. Admitting students with disabilities and expecting them to keep up with the pace of a normal school is not inclusive education. The school management has to make changes in their overall functioning to enable such students to get holistic development,” says Tuli.
At Amar Jyoti School, all the teachers are trained regularly to deal with special kids. Similarly, students too sometimes do not have the foundational skills required as per the disability that they face. Hence, the school also offers a preparatory module of 3-6 months duration to training students with basic requirements such as sign language, braille etc.
Stuti Gaur, District Coordinator (Special Needs), District South East, Directorate of Education (DoE), Delhi, says inclusive education is teamwork. Since students spend more time with teachers in regular classrooms, teachers must be aware of different ways and techniques to handle students with special needs.
Pandemic has made the situation worse
“Delhi government holds annual teacher training to educate school teachers about different aspects of disabilities including proficiency in braille, sign language, classroom transaction and seating arrangement. There have been attitudinal changes in teachers over the past few years but it is still a long way to go. The situation has become worse due to the pandemic. Regular students themselves faced huge challenges while adapting to the new mode of learning, children with special needs have had struggled more,” says Gaur.
Gaur adds that special educators are posted in most of the schools whose responsibility is to conduct remedial teaching and fill up the learning gaps if any. But, that is not enough to promote inclusive education.
“Students who have profound or several levels of disability have to join special schools as currently our education system only equipped to provide academic and psychological support. Schools are yet to develop into a system of therapeutic and medical support for such students,” Gaur adds.
New NCF for teacher education
The NCERT is also developing a dedicated National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for teacher education, where the council will ensure that consultations are held with expert bodies such as the National Institutes of DEPwD.
“The council is developing textbooks for sign language students along with talking books, which will help visually-impaired students learn effectively. While there have been teacher training programmes conducted in the past, we need to contextualise the training based on the experience of individual teachers. Suggestions are being invited for NCF. Along with the focus on academic learning outcomes, teacher training needs to be more competency-based,” said Hrushikesh Senapaty, former director, NCERT.