The new academic session has been momentous for Harini’s parents. The LKG student has overcome her disability (she has mild Down’s syndrome) to get admission into Children’s Garden Higher Secondary School. “It was always our wish to see her go to a regular school. Seeing her travel on bus, taking part in activities and lessons with 20-25 children in her class and slowly getting to play with other children makes us happy,” says S. Bharathi, the child’s mother.
Harini’s case is an example of mainstreaming, thanks to the intervention of parents and the Madhuram Narayanan Centre for Exceptional Children where she was groomed.
While many children have been successfully mainstreamed, thanks to the efforts of non-governmental organisations or government body, very little has happened from an educational institution per se, say activists. The School Education Department’s circular to schools issued a few days ago also asks managements to implement the RTE Act.
The Act says free and compulsory education must be provided to all children, including disabled children in the 6-14 age group.
A couple of awareness drives this week aim to address this message – if some schools can go for inclusive education; all can do. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in association with the Spastic Society of Tamil Nadu carried a drive in north Chennai on Tuesday. A puppet show was part of the awareness programme. On Wednesday, VidyaSagar will conduct an awareness drive in Corporation Primary School, CIT Nagar.
“But, it is not easy to mainstream children with varying levels of disabilities, parents expectations and school’s requirements,” says Jaya Krishnaswamy, Director, Madhuram Narayanan Centre for Exceptional Children. “It takes three years for a child to be mainstreamed. We have cases were teachers cannot cope, they need to have a missionary zeal,” she says. From sending children to Children’s Garden School, Ms. Krishnaswamy says today parents have started identifying more schools and the preparation goes on for a year.
In 2004-2005, Lady Andal Venkatasubbarao Matriculation Higher Secondary School enrolled three children with cerebral palsy. Shalini Pillay, Principal, says the school continues to enrol such children and it is possible because of the restricted number of students in each class (30) and disabled-friendly infrastructure added over the years.
“Photocopies of class notes are provided to them at the time of exam and teachers coach them separately if need be. They are just like normal children, sometimes they get hyperactive. For those who cannot do experiments or manage to study 10 subjects, we send them to the National Institute of Open Schooling,” she says. SSA has been streamlining over 5,000 children every year to various intervention centres such as government schools, home based education and day care centres, but more community awareness needs to be created, add officials.