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  1. 1. March - April 201640 demystifying education The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act of 2009 guarantees all children aged between six and eleven access to quality education regardless of any other social, economic, or political factors. For most children, the academic journey is a routine affair, taken for granted. For some children, however, this journey is not as linear. This article explores the complexities faced by physically and intellectually challenged children in their academic journey, and how the concept of inclusive education can help them resolve them, when the requisite measures are accurately implemented. Exploring Inclusive Education in Indian Schools Inclusive education implies that all children, regardless of any handicaps or disabilities, share the same classroom and are all equally involved in the process of learning at school. Yet, implementing this system is not simple. There are several logistical issues that inclusivity brings with it, such as specialised teacher training and additional facilities, amongst many other things. Inclusive education in India is restricted by lack of funds and proper training. As such, inclusive schools can be difficult to find, and even if you come across some, it is extremely difficult to gauge the quality of the inclusive education provided in India. This is where word-of-mouth experience helps. To get a sense of how schools are becoming inclusive across the country, let us take a case in point: that of Deepa Garwa, mother of eight-year-old Arshia who has Down’s syndrome. Deepa Garwa maintains that inclusive education, when implemented properly, is a tremendously positive experience for both neurotypical children as well as children with special needs. “The former become sensitised to the problems of the latter, whereas the latter imbibe the basic functional skills needed to interact with mainstream society. However, despite the progress made in India regarding inclusivity in the last few years, there is still a long way to go,” she rues.
  2. 2. 41March - April 2016 demystifying education Garwa gives an example to illustrate how even schools that claim to be inclusive can still discriminate against children with special needs. During her daughter’s Annual Day at school, Garwa noticed that Arshia and another child with Cerebral Palsy were both sidelined and kept as flowers in the background, something that greatly upset her. She promptly complained to the Principal of the school, and ensured that Arshia was fully involved in the dance at the next event and even excelled as a dancer. “She dances at home all the time and is physically fine despite being cognitively delayed”, says Garwa. “But the school did not recognise this and instead kept her aside because she was ‘different’.” While her school now recognises Arshia’s potential and gives her some academic support and leeway (in the form of visual aids to facilitate learning as well as a differently-paced syllabus), Garwa claims that she had to battle for such facilitations to be granted to Arshia and to ensure that the child received the education she needed and deserved. Thus, she makes it clear that in order for inclusive education to work, not only do schools have to be accommodating, but parents must also be firm in their demands of quality education for their child in case of any resistance. Furthermore, parents must create an atmosphere at home that helps the child better adapt to her mainstream school. Garwa’s experience brings out certain important facets of inclusive education. First, schools that are inclusive require an awareness and understanding of the problems of children with special needs. It is impossible to come up with solutions to problems no one knows about! Second, these schools must be flexible in order to help children with differing conditions adjust to life in a mainstream school, and must demonstrate a willingness to accommodate such children. A school that claims to be inclusive cannot be judged using brochures or websites. Navaz Hormusjee, Head of Learning Support at Mallya Aditi International School, recommends that parents visit multiple schools and see for themselves how inclusive they really are. “Meeting with the head of school, at most times, gives you a good indication of the atmosphere of the school,”he says. Physical infrastructure such as ramps and elevators for the physically disabled also need to be present, so parents should note such things as well. Experts Speak “Most children with special needs can enroll in mainstream schools provided the school has the infrastructure to support them. You cannot enroll them in a school where there are no trained special educators and where other support systems and facilities are not available”. Annie John A psychologist at Mallya Aditi International School in Bengaluru. “It may be the job of the learning support teacher to work with a student with learning difficulties but she can’t work in isolation,” she points out. “Mainstream teachers need to understand the process as well. Teachers need to be sensitised and this is an ongoing process. Parents also play an important part. They need to be counselled and shown how to continue the work back home”. Navaz Hormusjee Head of Learning Support at Mallya Aditi International School. “Some of the essentials an inclusive school should offer include appointing a Shadow Teacher (full time/part time) to guide the child depending upon her requirement, formulating tailor-made notes and learning materials to suit her needs, etc.” Monica D’Souza Vice-Principal, Montfort Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai.
  3. 3. Siddharth V.J., 18 years, Singapore, and Kritika Srinivasan March - April 201642 demystifying education As mentioned earlier, a good inclusive school will also involve parents heavily in their child’s education and development, so parents must be prepared to contribute as well. Parents must ensure that there is continuity at home to facilitate a completely inclusive education for their child. And they must constantly communicate with the school to ensure that they are up-to-date with their child’s experiences in school, and to ensure that the child is not being left out of anything. A child with special needs who is enrolled in a mainstream school, included in the same classroom, but not involved in the same activities as her neurotypical peers, is not going to benefit much. Garwa insists that if a child is being neglected and not integrated properly with her peers, the solution is not to withdraw her and opt for home schooling instead. “Schools can be negligent at times, but it is upto us parents to dig our heels in and attempt to optimise the integration process for our children!” she exclaims. If implemented correctly, inclusivity can be beneficial to all the students, according to Monica D’Souza, Vice-Principal, Montfort Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Chennai. For neurotypical students, the exposure to, and experience of socialising with children with special needs sensitises them and teaches them how to adapt to and work with people with differing abilities. It instills in them an awareness about the laws and rights of people. For children with special needs, inclusivity fosters independence and gives them an awareness of their strength and weaknesses. As they grow, they realise that while their weaknesses cannot be completely eliminated, they can be worked around. Garwa admits that Arshia’s interactions with her peers at school has made her far more aware and street-smart, enabling her to interact with the rest of society in ways that other such children who do not go to a mainstream school cannot. The financial flipside means that to cater to these children with special needs, the school must be committed to investing in the additional resources that are so indispensable. D’Souza mentions that Montfort has invested in many such resources. “Inclusive education means integrating children with special needs within the regular syllabus and classroom, therefore, in order to bridge the gap, a few extra measures have to be taken,” she elaborates. “Some of the essentials an inclusive school should offer include appointing a Shadow Teacher (full time/ part time) to guide the child depending upon her requirement, formulating tailor- made notes and learning materials to suit her needs, etc. Of course, all this adds to the cost, which will eventually have to be borne by the parents. However, if one can afford it, the cost is negligible when compared to the benefits it offers the student in the long run.” Inclusive education is certainly growing more common in India and many schools today do integrate special needs and neurotypical children. However, schools must be circumspect and understand the needs of such children completely, and implement inclusive measures accurately. A faulty system will do more harm than good to those it is intended for. For instance, the Shadow Teacher concept can be detrimental to a student if incorrectly applied. A teacher constantly tailing a student throughout the day can deter other children from approaching her, thus isolating the child. Such teachers should know precisely when to step in and help the child, as opposed to consistently handholding such children and obstructing their development and socialisation process. The onus is on the parents to opt for inclusive education for their children with special needs, ensure that the school is taking the correct measures to integrate the child, and work closely with the school to perfect the system. Some schools that claim inclusivity: Vibgyor High, Mumbai Amar Jyoti School, Delhi and Gwalior Montfort Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai R B Academy, Pune Mallya Aditi International School, Bangalore