Chennai

The tough task of inculcating the value of inclusion in schools

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Efforts to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools are fraught with challenges, say experts.

The last few weeks have been hectic for Sangeetha* (name changed) as she has been looking to admit her 11-year-old son into a new school for the coming academic year.

“My son has mild Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) and was studying in a private school in Mogappair but he and 17 other children with special needs have been asked to leave now,” she said.

With not many private mainstream schools receptive to admitting him, she said that among the very few schools in the city that are inclusive, there are other issues such as high fees.

The Constitution of India and the Right to Education Act, 2009, guarantee the right to education to all children. No child can be denied admission on the grounds of disability to any school, but the reality of children with disabilities being included in mainstream schools is often challenging, say experts. However, it can be done — with the right kind of resources, support and most importantly, the right attitude and climate in the schools, they say.

A senior official of the school in Mogappair said they had tried to be inclusive. “We appointed a special educator in July for the children, but she was not able to handle all the 18 children — with differing abilities. We cannot afford a special educator in every class. We are also receiving complaints from the parents of other children as some of the children are causing disturbances in class. Also, we are not sure if the children are benefitting from sitting in the classes,” she said.

Dipti Bhatia, deputy director, Vidya Sagar, an organisation that works with people with disabilities, said that while inclusion did have challenges, it could and should be done.

“The school has to have resources to do this and has to prepare itself. Resources are available — with NGOs and the government to provide support. The school should be able to access rehabilitation professionals or special educators. Teachers and special educators must collaborate. Parents of non-disabled children should be sensitised, as should the children. Certain adaptations are necessary in the curriculum and evaluation modes,” she said.

Gayathri*(name changed), another parent, admits that most schools she has been approaching to admit her nine-year-old son to, have been directing her to special schools.

“My son only has mild PDD and has been certified as fit to study in a mainstream school by experts. All we want is for our children to experience and study in a school with other children. But this has become an increasingly arduous task since school managements tell us that they do not have the resources to train their teachers and facilitate inclusiveness,” she said.

L.V. Jayashree, director, The Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu, said empirical evidence had shown that non-disabled children in inclusive schools were more socially and emotionally evolved.

“The school and the management have to see the value of inclusion. There is room for improvement in the system but there are many positive stories too,” she said.

Gita Srikanth, director, We Can, a resource centre for children with autism spectrum disorder, said that parents too needed to redefine education for themselves and their children. “Is the education equipping the children with life skills or any skill at all — this is what they need to be looking at,” she said.

“Teachers have to be trained to know how to teach children with disabilities. And if there is a problem, the school should be willing to look for solutions and build linkages with organisations and with the community.

Keeping the doors wide open

A few schools in the city that have managed to uphold inclusive education for their students say that it is a combination of investing in the right resources and aiming towards a holistic environment on campus.

“We have a series of workshops at the start of the year to ensure that our teachers are prepared and sensitised to inclusive classrooms. During the course of the year, we maintain a steady interaction with the parents of the intellectually challenged children and aid them with special question banks and notes to help the children if they have difficulties in coping with classes,” said Mangala Jayachandran, director of special education, Lady Andal School.

The school has around 200 children who have been integrated into the mainstream classes.

The Montfort Matriculation Higher Secondary School in the city too has been working with two nodal agencies that assess children with special needs and certify them as capable to be admitted to mainstream schools.

“The children who are then referred to us are taken in and we, at present, have about five children for each grade. When they reach class X, we make special provisions for students with special needs to ensure that they are able to cope,” said Rev. Bro. Thomas, School Principal and Correspondent.

What the SSA does

The RTE Act, after it was originally passed, was later amended to make it more disabled-friendly as it had initially included only children with physical challenges in its ambit. It was amended to include children with autism, cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities — as defined in the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, and the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995.

Inclusive education is a crucial component of the Right to Education Act, 2009, and the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) in Tamil Nadu works towards this for universalisation of elementary education, said Pooja Kulkarni, State project director, SSA.

“We have identified 1,36,000 children with disabilities across the State in the age group of 6-14. A majority of them — about 73,000 — have intellectual and cognitive disabilities, autism or multiple disabilities. About 1,20,000 are in schools, with about 90,000 being in government and government-aided schools. There are not many in private schools,” she said. The SSA trains teachers, has special educators visit schools to help and has also adapted curriculums for the children. “Our training modules and adapted curriculums are available and can be accessed by private schools if they want them,” she said

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Printable version | May 28, 2017 6:31:06 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/the-tough-task-of-inculcating-the-value-of-inclusion-in-schools/article8235957.ece