Implementation of inclusive education laws in all schools
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There are, in our country, around 20 lakh children of school going age with disabilities. Around 46 lakhs are between the age of 10 and 19. None of them have a truly viable and fair means of education providing them dignity and equality in the societies they live in. And therefore we cannot even begin to comprehend how many bright intact minds are lost to mainstream life. Most are not even permitted basic rights of existence or human decency.
We, a group of parents struggling with inclusive education for many years appeal to you on behalf of all children with special needs impacted by school insensitivity. Not only ours but many, if not all children with disabilities have faced to varying degrees of severity, harassment, abuse and demonization in the name of inclusive education.
Even in the most premier schools of the country, behind the facade of token inclusion, runs the ugly operation of ‘business as usual.’ Education can no longer be defined as the imparting of knowledge. It is now defined as the art of weeding out through innovative practices low scoring students and segregating them from high scoring students. Not only are children with disabilities denied school admission on various pretexts, low scoring neurotypical children are labelled as disabled to showcase the school’s facade of inclusive education. As a result average students are not allowed to attempt mainstream boards like ICSE and CBSE, and are pushed into exams more suitable to marginal and disabled students-the NIOS. Children with disabilities, much lower in the pecking order, of course have no chance of even getting close to the Board exams like ICSE, CBSE, IB or CIE. Many do not even take the NIOS exam. Most do not get school admission. Those who do are victims of insensitive school administrations to an extent heightened by the fact that there is no redressal, monitoring or supervision of inclusive education policies.
In the light of this disturbing and alarming trend, we appeal to the Ministry and the school boards to watchfully implement and prevent the infringement of existing inclusive education laws and policies.
1. Zero rejection of children for school admission. This is important because the selective admission criterion is allowing schools to discriminate against certain disabilities. This should not be permitted since all children have a Right to Education.
2. Only children with benchmark disabilities of 60 percent or more should be admitted in the disability quota of 3 percent in a school. All children without benchmark disabilities should be immediately mainstreamed. This will prevent the danger of neurotypical children being pushed into disability labeling to fill quotas so the school can showcase inclusive education and also prevent below 90 percenters from taking the Board exams.
3. Handover of responsibility and accountability of special needs from special educator to the extra class teacher. The extra class teacher supports the class but is primarily responsible for 1 or maximum 2 children with special needs. There should not be more than 2 children with special needs in a class. The class teacher has qualifications like the rest of the teaching staff like B.Ed, but with specialization in disability, and gets higher pay. The teacher supervises teaching by ‘universal design’ for the entire class and customizes special needs according to individual disabilities. Supervision of personal attendants/shadow facilitators for the child is also the extra teacher’s responsibility. This simple solution has found success in some countries and not only roots out segregation policies practiced by special educators, it is cheaper than the exclusive and highly commercial special education setups installed within schools.
4. Open door policies for parental intervention, cctv footage and parental access to their children and teaching staff at all times. Individual lesson plans, programs and shadow facilitation must always be done with consent of the parent/guardian, and partnership if the parents so desire. This is necessary to enable and ensure a secure and sensitized environment around the child.
These simple changes can bring about the paradigm shift necessary for inclusive education.
And this can be done with, again, a few simple actionable points. This is our appeal-
1. Empowerment of Administrative Cells, as prescribed in the RPWD act, IEDSS, Section 31, in every district to ensure these educational directives are scrupulously followed.
2. A board council committee ( ICSE, CBSE etc.) in every school to nurture and handhold children with disabilities, so that the ones who obtain admission are not unfairly weeded out in early years.
3. Stringent de-registration, by boards and the ministry, of schools showing inclusive education malpractice in deed and intent.
These changes will not only give a new lease of life to around 46 lakh disabled children, it will provide an equitable representation of students in the yearly board exams, thus giving far reaching opportunities for career, education and quality of life improvements to many children.
Last, but not the least, these changes will improve the quality of general education. This is because schools will shift focus- from elimination of students to education of students. And this will have a deep impact on creating a more empathetic and cultured society.
Shivani Singh, Smita Beri, Archana Taneja, Badhuli Rath, Shivendra Singh, Jasleen Sethi, Dr. Gauri Rao, Shalinee Kohli Murishwar.
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