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July 04, 2019 Thursday 03:47:51 PM IST

The Case for More Inclusivity for Children With Learning Disabilities in NEP

Cover Story

The definition of the term disability is varied. Disability is an umbrella term which refers to impairment that may be physical, cognitive or developmental. It often results in restrictions on activity.The term ‘disabled’ has been replaced with‘differently abled’ in modern times.

There is an academic discipline dedicated to study and research on meaning, nature and consequences of disability, called ‘DisabilityStudies’. The field primarily focuses on the terms‘impairment’ and ‘disability’. While the former is an outcome of medical premises, the latter is considered a social construct.  The number of people who fall under the differently abled category in India isestimatedat 26.8 million as per the 2011 census.

The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was drafted in 2007. The CRPD was significant for a paradigm shift it made in understanding  disability from a social perspective. It was a humanitarian approach where focus was given to inclusion. The foundation of jurisprudence for disability in India finds its roots with this landmark document. India was the seventh country to ratify the document.The convention was a lodestar for the many ensuing enterprises for the differently abled in the country.

Inclusive education

The basis of special education found radical changes with the conceptualisation and adoption of ‘inclusive education’. The idea echoes in schools of liberalism and progressive thought. For instance, the selective placement of special education students in ‘regular education classes’ could be done by means of an accommodative curriculum.

Through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment of 1976, the category of education was shifted from the State to the Concurrent list. The Ministry of Human Resources Development has documented variations in development of children belonging to certain categories such as Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe.  The Kothari Commission of 1964 was the first education commission which explored thesubject of schooling of children with special needs. Despite recommendations of the commission, there was  considerable relegation of the need for setting up special schools to the voluntary sector. Many of the specially educated children are still educated by schools run by NGOs.

The Ministry of Social Welfare initiated a scheme for Integrated Education for Disabled Children in 1974. The scheme, along with Project for Integrated Education Development (PIED) assisted by UNICEF, was introduced to ensure educational opportunities for children with disabilities in normal schools.  In 1986, the scheme was bought under the National Education Policy. This enabled the scope of incorporating inclusive education in general schools; however, its lagniappe was highly bounded. The SarvaShiksaAbhiyan of 2002 strived for Universalisation of Elementary Education. Though the scheme has been instrumental in ameliorating the suffering of children with physical disability, the situation still remains difficult for children with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

The example set by Neighbourhood Children’s parliament in Nagadasampattivillage in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu, in extending help to differently abled, is interesting. The initiative was taken up by the children to exercise their rights. A survey was conducted in the district to assess the problem of the differently abled. There were separate schools for differently abled. The children who were differently abled wanted to study along with the other children though the authorities were against it. A campaign was initiated through Children’s Parliament with the help of disabled children and their parents. After two years of hard work, their efforts bore fruit when the district Collector issued an order allowing disabled children to study in normal schools.

Trained teachers needed

Teachers who train the differently abled children require special training and immense patience. The mentally challenged children would require more attention and have more needs as compared to physically challenged or normal children. They require cognitive training and knowledge in speech therapy. Children with different disabilities such asAutism, Down Syndrome andAttention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) require special attention. They may have high cognitive skills but may lack comprehension skills; they may be good at comprehension but may not be able to work well with words or numbers. They need to be trained in a special manner. Teachers need to tackle the learning disabilities patiently. An autistic child can never be forced to pay attention or do a task. Similarly, children suffering from ADHD have a small span of attention. It is hard for them to sit at one place for more than five minutes. They keep fidgeting with things and move around the classroom a lot. Children with Down Syndrome are very stubborn and want to get things done their way. If they have specific colour preference, they stick to that. For instance, if a child likes the colour purple,he/she would then only eat from a purple coloured plate. An autistic child who is fond of solving mathematics problems would not be able to converse despite possessing good comprehension skills. They are often very moody and are triggered by anything ranging from loud music to complete silence.

Institutes such as the Central Institute on Mental Retardation, Thiruvananthapuram,have been working towards developing the mentally challenged community to become self-sufficient. They provide training in areas such as cooking, hygiene, motor skills, speech skills, driving, mechanics, building stuff, art, painting, dance, music, sports, horticulture, horse riding and many more. They empower mentally disabled children in such a manner that they are able to provide for themselves without having to depend on others for their well-being. They train the children in concept building, constructing ideas and things and to manage time and money efficiently.

NGOs at the forefront

Severalorganisations for the mentally challenged are run by NGOs and do not receive government assistance. Private institutions usually cater to the needs of disabled children who come from a high-income background. They provide facilities based on the funds received by way of fees.The differently abled face problems in getting jobs and sustainable wages despite the role played by the State-initiated programmes. Their participation in various mainstream political, social and economic activities is limited, thus reducing their chances of empowerment. The socio-economic status of the category still remains low.

Disability thus becomes both a cause and consequence of inequalities - cause due to the additional expenses which the family has to incur and consequence due to the limitation in access to healthcare and prophylactic services. Statistics reveal that the poverty rate among people with disabilities is twice higher than people without disabilities. Nearly two-third of the people experiencing poverty have some or the other form of disability. Though there are provisions to ensure access to education for all, there are several institutional challenges such as lack of para-transit facilities in educational institutions and non-availability of trained professionals.

According to the statistics provided by the census of India, the enrolment of disabled students is 89% at the primary school level; it is 8.5 % at the secondary level, while only 2.3% of the children who have undergone special education reach higher secondary school. Apart from ensuring welfare mechanism, the union government needs to focus on creating specific framework and guidelines for inclusivity for the disabled in schools and colleges.Pragmatic solutions need to be worked out to expand the education opportunities for the disabled under the new education policy.