Inclusive education is challenging. But its impressive results are reason enough for schools to take it up vigorously
As a kid, Kedar was mainstreamed from a special school to a regular school. Now ask him if he felt left out at the regular school when his classmates rushed off to sports or other activities he couldn't take part in, and he asks: “What can be a greater stigma than studying in a special school?” Kedar's question turns the spotlight on the need for inclusive education.
The right to education aside, a much overlooked fact is that inclusive education is beneficial to not just the special child, but the other kids too. Research shows that kids in inclusive schools have better social development, social skills, positive attitude and emotional development, and as good academic growth too. “After all, isn't this what education is about too — learning about different kinds of people, cultures, abilities, interests, socio-economic situations and developing into socially responsible individuals?” asks Rajul Padmanabhan, director, Vidya Sagar.
And yet, inclusion remains an exception rather than the norm. No surveys are needed to prove the point. How many special children have we come across studying with the others?
Not many schools have the commitment, and smaller schools fear parents' reaction or that they don't have the resources.
Hand-holding, all along
However, comfortingly, many special schools are ready to help out the child. “We are around for not just the initial sensitising or teaching sessions; we are in touch with the schools that we mainstream our kids into, and are ready to help out with any problem that may crop up”, says Jaya Krishnaswamy, director, Madhuram Narayanan Centre for Exceptional Children. Vidya Sagar too is ready to send its teachers to help out in any school that faces challenges in inclusive education.
Having said that, schools must take such kids under their wings with care , feel inclusive education experts. Only with this does true development come about, they say.
Another facet to the issue is that a few parents of children who get included don't inform the schools of their child's special challenges, fearing the child would be branded. “Consequently, many such kids get thrown out of school after a few years because of ‘failing', and fall back into special schools”, informs Jaya.
A flexible curriculum would help, as would a curriculum that includes more hands-on-training and vocational skills such as craft, carpentry, music, etc. “It would prepare the special kids for jobs,” says Rajul. “Some specials schools are to blame too, for they don't even try to mainstream the kids.” Many parents are neither aware that the Right to Education Act mandates inclusion of differently-abled kids into mainstream schools nor realise that their kids can be mainstreamed. Meanwhile, fully inclusive schools such as the newly-established Chettinad Srihari Vikasam are a rarity.
As for other kids' acceptance of the special child, it does not seem to be a problem. They are upfront with their questions and accept diversity easily. “If they see a special child drooling, they would point it out and be done with it,” says Rajul.
“Teachers can play a big role too — by initiating peer interaction, by getting the special child to sit alongside a particularly empathetic child, designing activities that get the special child feel an achiever,” suggests Sangeetha Madhu, clinical child psychologist and director, Chennai Institute of Learning and Development (CHILD).
Schools are made of children. If they are able to see each other as individuals rather than as ‘abled' or ‘challenged', why can't more of our schools?
“There were challenges. In the regular school, I felt at a loss initially. But eventually, it turned out wonderful, and friends have been my greatest strength”, says Parthasarathy Dheepakh, who was mainstreamed when in Class VI to Jaigopal Garodia School, and went on to complete two degrees from Loyola College and one from the Asian College of Journalism.
Ummul Khair is now in Ambedkar Law College after being mainstreamed to Lady Andal School. She says: “My friends understood me very well when I explained my needs. Thanks to my friends, despite having to use a wheelchair, I have enjoyed swing rides and excursions, study groups and chat sessions. They saw me as a person, not a disabled person.”
Points to ponder
Inclusive education is good for all children — ordinary or challenged
It nurtures children into socially valuable individuals with great emotional quotient
It helps build a harmonious society
It is possible for mainstream schools to incorporate special teaching methodologies and material
Inclusive education can unfurl the potential in the differently-abled — think Stephen Hawking, Richard Branson, Tom Cruise…