By celebrating differences in the classroom, Delhi’s Balwant Rai Mehta Vidya Bhavan is turning integrated education into value education

The Hindi language class is in progress for Class XI students of Delhi’s Balwant Rai Mehta Vidya Bhavan integrated school and Sumita Chawla is teaching vilome or antonyms. To make the lesson easier for the slow learners and students with autistic symptoms, she gives the children some sugar and pieces of a raw fruit to taste in order to explain antonyms of sweet and sour.

While teaching mathematics to Class VII students, Seema Verma uses as many visuals as possible to explain different methods of calculations so that nothing is lost on the hearing impaired children in her class.

The teachers in the school use various innovative methods, activities and practical examples to ensure that the differently-abled children do not lag behind or feel out of sync in a class that has more so-called ‘normal’ children. The ratio of differently-abled to ‘normal’ students in every class is one to 10, which is the approved norm. This gives the teachers the scope to give more time and attention to the differently-abled students.

Both the teachers agree that “a little more involvement, attention and innovation are all that is required”. And it is both the training and the experience that helps these teachers do justice to all the students in the class.

Chanchal Malhotra, who herself studied in this integrated school and is now in-charge of the Children with Special Needs section, says integrated education gives these children more exposure and hence the confidence. She feels this is the most effective way to get acceptance in society.

Ravi Mathur, in-charge of the hearing impaired section, too, is a strong advocate of integrated education. She says, “It is not just about studying in the same school as ‘normal’ children but also playing and eating together during the lunch hour, commuting in the same vehicle or standing in the queue or participating in school functions and socialising together that helps the process of integration.”

In fact, Yash Monga and Khyati Bhandari of Class VII and some other students have found their own ways and methods, including a bit of sign language, to interact with their hearing impaired classmates.

Integrated education not only helps in mainstreaming the differently-abled but also makes ‘normal’ children more sensitive to the needs of special children and that is why integrated education in itself is value education, says director of the school S.C. Bari.

The problem, as one of the teachers point out, is that sometimes parents do not want their differently-abled children to study in the same class as ‘normal’ children because they feel their children may not be able to take the stress to compete with ‘normal’ children.

Balwant Rai Mehta Vidya Bhavan located in Masjid has 3,200 students, of which 410 are differently-abled children, most of whom are hearing impaired, slow learners, autistic or children suffering from cerebral palsy.

In view of the amended Right to Education Act that gives differently-abled children the right of admission to any school for free and compulsory education, Mr. Bari emphasises the need not only for more trained teachers but allowing all schools to hold classes in the afternoon to accommodate as many special students as possible.

A pioneer in integrated education, the school has been running successfully since 1967 and apart from academics, also imparts vocational training to help children who have academic limitations to become economically independent.

Dheeraj Kalucha, who could not study beyond Class V, today mans the first-aid unit in the school. He not only maintains the medicine stock register meticulously but knows how to bandage when a child gets hurt while playing.

Geeta Malik, social worker and coordinator, proudly talks about the differently-abled students who passed out from this institute and are doing well in life. Gaman Mehta, a slow learner, now runs an event management business. Sumit, suffering from hearing impairment, is working as a web designer with a reputed company. Sonu Anand, another hearing impaired student, is working with Delhi Tourism.

There are many other success stories says Mrs Malik thanks to the integrated education that gave them the confidence to mainstream with the society with ease. But it is Yash’s comment that says it all. When asked whether he faces any problem studying with differently-abled students, Yash takes offence to the question. “For me they are as ‘normal’ as I am,” he replies in a firm tone. That indeed is real mainstreaming.