Home-tutoring the disabled will sharpen their isolation and limit their learning
When I first went to college at St Xaviers,Mumbai,I was frightened beyond words. No,it wasnt because I was afraid of ragging. I would actually have loved to have been ragged. It was because I had never been in a social environment with so many normal people on my own. You see,cerebral palsy has rendered my speech incomprehensible to most and I need a wheelchair. Thus,I was educated in a special school set up by my mother,Mithu Alur,for me and hundreds of other people like me in Mumbai (and later thousands like me across the country).
And I,and three friends who also had cerebral palsy,became the first people with the condition to attend college with normal students.
The initial hesitation and fear were just that: initial. In a few short weeks,my three friends and I began to feel at ease. Despite much difficulty,I interacted with people. My life has never been the same since because,for the first time,we were part of the rest of the world,just like everybody else. Things have changed a lot since that time in the late 1980s. And they changed further in April 2012 when the Union minister for human resource development,Kapil Sibal,approved of an amendment in the Right to Education Act. It has been a long and arduous journey for the disability movement and for NGOs to convince the government that children with disabilities need compulsory education.
Congratulations to the government for this Act,which states that all children with disabilities should go to the nearby local school. But it has an optional clause saying that those who are severely affected (like me) can be given home based education. This clause suggests that the government is slithering out of full responsibility.
For a moderate to severely disabled child to be educated in a non-home based environment,a long list of provisions is needed,one that should be sanctioned by the government. The clause about teaching such children at home seems to
indicate that the government is only providing a half-hearted education to a select few of the children with disabilities. But most children with disabilities,even the severely disabled ones,desperately need to be included in mainstream education.
I had a somewhat overprotected education,going to the first special school in India,set up by my mother. Due to the lack of knowledge about disabled people,teachers were hesitant to challenge us much. We were cosseted and wrapped in cotton wool. This was detrimental to our educational growth. We were never engaged in argument and our thought processes never challenged. We remained cocooned in our own passive,non-interactive world.
When I went to St Xaviers,I felt like a person from outer space. I used to wander around without interacting with anyone specifically. It took a long time to form good friendships. My speech became the biggest barrier. I needed to move beyond the hello-goodbye relationship I had with people. But how could I,considering I was coming from a cruelly nurturing environment? Though I began to loosen up quickly,it took me years to be able to grapple with the intellectual rigour of mainstream life. Also,we had not been taught to converse with each other. Our speech problem always came in the way.
One of the reasons for my inadequate education was that when we returned from England in the 1970s the medical model of disability was predominant. My mother,instead of getting me admitted in Cathedral School like my brother,decided to set up a school. Yes,at that time it was the need of the hour,since the country lacked services for people with disabilities. Seeing my mother,my aunts and a lot of other people in the country started such services in other regions. Yet 40 years later,only a handful of us across the the country have been educated. It is utterly shameful. If the right to education had existed during my years of schooling,many more like me would have had an education and been serving members of society.
The government needs to make many more provisions in education for children with multiple disabilities. We are the ones who always get left behind,our voices remain silent and
imprisoned in our homes as the government prefers to spend money elsewhere. Is home tutoring really beneficial to ones growth? Children will only be motivated by their peers. If all children,disabled or otherwise,are allowed to be together they will not only understand and be comfortable with each other,but also those with
disabilities will flourish and be contributing citizens of the nation. Learning can be much more effective through ones peers and through social interaction,and not in the seclusion of home.
I fear that this clause of home based education will be detrimental for children with disabilities. It will make it easier for principals and teachers to advise parents of children with disabilities to opt for home tutoring,as the government perhaps does not want to address itself to the needs of such children. However,the government must allocate more resources. It should not be allowed to shirk its responsibilities.
Chib is a Mumbai-based disability activist and the author of One Little Finger,email@example.com