Collectively alone: Schooling for disabled
As long as the needs of people with disabilities are limited to a “special” category, they will not be part of regular educational initiatives and until then inclusive education will remain a pipe dream
Inclusion can be an illusion. The center recently informed the Supreme Court that under the Samagra Shiksha program, the majority of the 22.5 lakh children with special needs would be admitted to mainstream schools, where teachers would be trained to meet their needs. However, special schools would continue to cater to children with more than 40 percent disabilities. It did so in response to a public interest litigation that sought a sufficient number of trained teachers in special schools. Integration is a laudable goal; but the government’s lofty intentions are unlikely to address other relevant challenges. What about the aspect of the increased workload on educators at mainstream schools, who already have a miserable teacher-student ratio of around 1:32? Significantly, 70 percent of these teachers have no special needs education or experience teaching students with disabilities. The lack of trained educators or the training of overwhelmed teachers is not the only challenge. Less than one percent of Indian educational institutions are accessible to people with disabilities according to the National Convention of Youth with Disabilities. This despite the fact that in 2009 the Right to Education Act introduced the inclusive education model in India, under which every child has the right to attend a school of their choice. There are also reports from various states of schools denying admission to children with disabilities, despite regulations prohibiting this type of segregation.
All of this conveys a deep reluctance on the part of cultural and educational institutions to be more accommodating; Can this be remedied by a fiat in favor of the convergence of students with different needs? It is striking that a Unesco report from 2019 shows a gap between the Law on the Right to Education of 2009 and the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of 2016, leading to confusion about where children with disabilities study and who should teach them. The cause of this confusion is attitudes towards the education of children with special needs. Education for this constituency is often presented in terms of the challenges it poses – the need for dedicated infrastructure, trained educators, etc. – rather than being seen as a means of securing the fundamental right that it is. That is not to say that the challenges are insignificant, but policy interventions need to go beyond them. As long as the needs of people with disabilities are limited to a “special” category, they will not be part of regular educational initiatives and until then inclusive education will remain a pipe dream.