In order to address the growing concern of shortage of teachers for children with disability, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) will impart training to as many as 1,140 teachers from 30 districts of Tamil Nadu, with the help of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
Launching the course here on Friday, officials said that the programme would help teachers understand the educational needs of children with different disabilities.
The 90-day distance-mode training course will include three-week contact classes starting later this month. The course includes acquainting the teachers with the concepts of inclusive education, legislative framework of disability, early identification of disability, contemporary education models and behaviour management. The teachers would also be trained to help children with assistive devices.
SSA officials say that since teachers often refrain from taking time off their regular jobs to invest in disability studies distance learning is a viable option. Efforts will be put to ensure that the capacity building process is carried out with commitment, said N. Latha, joint director, SSA-IED, Chennai. The training would focus on skill-based action and the trainers will be provided with training material translated in Tamil, said S. Mohanan, Regional director, IGNOU (Chennai).
However, activists say that short-term courses, while helping teachers get acquainted with disability, can violate the norms of certifying special educators if not implemented with caution.
“It is equally important that the contact classes are regularly attended by the enrolled teachers and the accountability does not end with just filling in the forms,” says Jaya Krishnaswamy, Managing Director, Madhuram Narayanan Centre for Exceptional Children.
“Any kind of disability studies takes a minimum of two years,” says S. Namburajan, Convenor, Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently-Abled and Care-Givers. “Such short-term programmes can be good refresher courses or can be imparted to care givers, but pressure-driven courses bring the down the quality of special education,” he adds.
“In western countries such as Germany, a minimum duration of four years is needed to purse a course in mental retardation alone,” points out Ms. Krishnaswamy.
Apart from monitoring mechanisms, quality field work that exposes the teachers to all kinds of disability and sensitises them should be given the maximum importance, say experts. They also observe that while many courses on special education are getting introduced, there are few committed takers. “Most special educators, including many of them from rural areas, are placed by NGOs alone, and are paid much less than teachers in normal schools,” says Mr. Namburajan.
Most special educators who specialise in training children with a certain kind of disability say the expertise is of little use when a class has children with different disabilities. “A professional way of training special educators is necessary,” says Mr. Namburajan.
Experts also recommend that besides encouraging special educators to work with teachers of normal schools to enable mainstreaming of disability, special focus be given to training the teachers to identify children with cranial anomalies, Down's Syndrome and learning disabilities. “A trainer not equipped with the capability to handle special children can crush their spirits and impair their social development,” says Ms. Krishnaswamy.