AS THE deadline for compliance with the four-year-old Right to Education Act ends on Monday,two schools here are on the verge of shutting down. However,in the case of Saraswati Mandir and Tulip,that is a cause for celebration the result of a 20-year dream that they never thought possible till the Act mandated education for all without discrimination.
Meant for children with disabilities,25 per cent of the schools children have secured admission in regular schools since the RTE came in. The schools are now in the process of transferring their remaining 55 students.
This is our last academic year. Having propagated the idea of inclusive education for over two decades,it is only natural we adhere to the Right to Education Act,which has an inclusive education policy, says Medha Lotlikar,founder trustee of the Saraswati Mandir Trust,which runs both the Marathi-medium Saraswati Mandir and the English-medium Tulip.
We have desperate parents coming to us and saying their child has been discriminated against. They complain their child is teased as mand buddhi (mentally challenged). I tell them if your child has come from a school for mentally challenged,he will be called so. Only if every child gets equal access to education will such a disparity be overcome, says 27-year old Pallavi Lotlikar,project manager at the Trust.
Medha Lotlikar admits,however,that shifting the students to regular schools was not easy. Lots and lots of counselling went into this. We had to convince each parent about why their child had to be in a regular school and how assimilation was the need of the hour, she says.
While children do face problems when exposed to a new environment,Lotlikar,who holds a masters in mainstream education,adds,These children need just 100 per cent of what regular children are given. Many of our children who are already in mainstream schools are doing perfectly fine.
As it wraps up its schools,the Saraswati Mandir Trust is planning to shift its focus to admission,retention and completion of education of children with disabilites in mainstream schools. Saraswati Mandir,started in 1992,and Tulip School have been merged to launch the Tulip project,which will be involved exclusively in documenting,counselling and training programmes.
Lotlikar,however,does have some complaints about the RTE Act. Just after the Act was formulated,like other special schools,they too approached the Education Department to get the school registered (under the Act,every school has to be registered by June 2013). According to her,the corruption in the department ensured the registration never happened.
Only 19 schools for children with disabilities in Mumbai now have registration. The Trust plans to take up this legal battle too,to ensure that registration is easier and that only those schools run which adhere to law. After all,a worst regular school is still better than the best special school, says Lotlikar.
As Saraswati Mandir and Tulip shut down,there are no two opinions on which category they fell in. Among their many success stories is that of a mentally challenged 22-year-old Harish who now works in an oil rig in the Middle-East bringing home Rs 12,000 a month.
Stories such as Harishs also lent to the making of Aamir Khans Taare Zameen Par,a film that not only drew inputs from the two schools teaching methodologies but also featured a few of their pupils in bringing the issue of disability to the mainstream. Ram Shankar Nikumbh,the character played by Khan,was shown as an instructor from Tulip.