In 2010-11, 1,195 boys and 879 girls with multiple disabilities were enrolled at Class 1 level in the State. As per the District Information System for Education data, the numbers at Class 8 stage for the same year was 120 boys and 64 girls. At Class 10 level, the numbers were 32 boys and 27 girls.
Clearly, the number of children with severe disabilities dwindles starkly in the schooling system from primary to the secondary levels. One of the mandates of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 is setting this right by ensuring access to children with special needs, including those with severe disabilities, in the education system.
An amendment to the Act was moved in April this year which included a sub-section which emphasises the right of children with disabilities to be enrolled in a neighbourhood school. It says that children with multiple or severe disabilities can opt for home-based education. While the first part of this new sub-section has been welcomed by all, opinion is divided on the implications of the thrust on home schooling.
Activists contend that the provision for home-based education will provide an easy excuse for schools to fob off any efforts to enrol children with special needs in regular schools, which are not inclined to creating inclusive classrooms.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) officials, on the other hand, argue that there would be strict guidelines on categorising a child as severely disabled and in need of home schooling, based on medical certification.
Though there is an official “zero rejection” policy for enrolling children with disabilities in mainstream schools, SSA runs 1,824 School Readiness Programme Centres in the State to facilitate this process. But, activists say that the provision for home-based education is being used by schools to deny admission.
“We hear this excuse from schools routinely,” says Diana Joseph, director of Fourth Wave Foundation, which works with children with special needs in Dharwad, Gadag, Haveri and Bangalore Rural.
She says volunteers appointed to visit children with special needs often don’t, which results in their completely being left out of education. The NGO has been lobbying with SSA to ensure that the volunteers, instead of teaching at home, should be asked to ferry the children to the cluster centres within a 5-km radius, equipped with trained teachers and learning material.
This method is being followed in two centres where Fourth Wave Foundation works, one in Kalghatgi in Dharwad and another in Hoskote near Bangalore. Volunteers bring children here twice a week to ensure that they are not in complete seclusion. The foundation plans to facilitate starting 20 more such centres soon.
Making children feel part of the larger schooling system, believes Ms. Joseph, enables them to make the transition from segregation to inclusive education and helps integration into mainstream society in the long run.
“Very few among the children are so entirely bed-ridden they cannot move,” she adds. In the organisation’s field experience, the percentage of such children is less than one in the age group between 2 and 18.
At the national level, activists have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal terming the provision on home-based education a “regressive” move, which amounts to condemning a disabled child to confinement.