Activists express reservations over amendments to RTE Act

Even as there is much anticipation of the listing of amendments to of the RTE Act in the Lok Sabha on Friday, disability rights activists have expressed their discontent over the amended RTE Act that allows home-based schooling for severely disabled children. The Rajya Sabha passed an amendment in the RTE Act recently widening the beneficiary net for children with disability and providing those with severe disability such autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities the benefit of choosing to study from home.

Members of the Disability Legislative Unit (Tamil Nadu), Vidya Sagar and Tamil Nadu Handicapped Federation feel legislating home-based education will only prompt schools and policy-makers to take the easier route of denying children education in mainstream schools by confining them to houses.

“Home-bound”

“It will be home-bound and not home-based education,” said Smitha Sadasivan of the DLU. Children, when included in mainstream education enjoy and thrive in the exposure to sports, playgrounds and organised activities with their peers. This is necessary for them to evolve and be empowered, she added, asserting that the step was a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which India is a signatory.

Home-based education in the State is in its nascent stage and cannot be even considered as an alternative to schooling.

As of now, one special educator teaches children registered in eight Corporation Schools and visits their home not more than once a week to impart, ‘home-based education'. “There is so much that these children miss out on. It is only what the educator teaches them and never what they want to learn on their own,” said Dipti Bhatia, deputy director, Vidya Sagar.

Experts note that home-based education emerged as a remedial alternative to be used in exceptional situation when the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan began focussing on the concept of inclusive education.

However, it often ends up sidelining children with disabilities who could very well be integrated into mainstream schools.

The amendment reflects an act of washing one's hands of the responsibility of making schools and transport accessible to children with disability and providing them inclusive education.

“And if home-based education is that good, why make it only for the severely disabled children,” asked Ms. Bhatia. “And, who are the ‘severely disabled' people that the act talks about? There is no definition of disability there or how considerable the disability is. Has there been any sort of scientific study that said home-based education is better for them,” she asked.

Unanswered questions

There are other very pertinent questions that remain unanswered, said T.M.N. Deepak, disability activist. “What are the standards for such education and will there be qualified home instructors, given that the Rehabilitation Council of India faces a shortage of special educators already? What will be the syllabus and who will monitor the teaching and learning patterns?” he asked.

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