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Updated: August 15, 2012 03:42 IST

Don’t disable her right to go to school

Anupam Ahuja
Comment (21)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

A recent amendment to the Right to Education Act legitimising home-schooling may lead to children with disabilities being “pushed out” of the system

Let us begin by listening to Mira’s story.

When I learnt that I have been granted admission in the college of my choice, fear of being part of the “rest of the world” gripped me. Though confident about my academic abilities, I was terrified at the thought of how the “others” would react to me: a cerebral palsy wheelchair user with a speech difficult to comprehend and a drooling mouth. Would they look at me with “poor you” written all over their faces? My early life experiences came back as a vivid flashback. We belong to a minority community of scavengers, lived in poverty and I remember being teased in school on account of my disability and background. Despite this, I learnt to take the insults in my stride. I was a keen learner and was admired for my learning abilities, though silently.

As I finished primary school, suddenly the world changed. I was asked to leave school as parents of my classmates had raised objections about my “peculiar characteristics”, in particular the drooling (which would spoil my books and clothes). A big fuss was created even after my mother, on being asked, had unconditionally signed a declaration absolving the school authorities of all responsibility in case of a mishap! I was forced to continue my learning in a home-based education programme under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. A special educator who my classmates called “the teacher of the mad children” came once a month to teach me for two hours. However, my class five teacher voluntarily continued to teach me regularly at home and, with my mother, worked hard to also seek support from other teachers/institutions/agencies. Eventually I completed my schooling through the open schooling system.

As I reflect, I wonder had my school teacher not been there would I have continued my education despite being “pushed out of the school”! I remember feeling very sad seeing my sisters go to school and on coming back narrating how they spent their day studying, playing and having fun. I was not allowed to go out in the locality where we lived as my grandmother felt that if people saw me, it would spoil the marriage prospects of my two elder sisters. I know she loved me but her actions made me feel miserable and sometimes even unwanted.

Many children with disabilities (not “disabled children” as they are children first and the disability happens to be one of their many characteristics) like Mira (name changed) have historically been excluded from mainstream education. Legislation has played a crucial role in changing this scenario. Parliament recently passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. This Act has been amended lately. Also, India has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which mandates equal rights, outlines non-discrimination in the context of disability and inclusion. How have these moves impacted on children with disabilities like Mira who have been “pushed out” of the system and many others who have been invisible for too long?

Mixed response

Most often when we talk about educating a child, we think about school and believe that true learning can only take place within the four walls of a formal classroom. However education occurs in many different forms and environments. The recent amendments regarding an option for home-based education for children with severe and multiple disabilities are based on this latter outlook. The amendments have received a mixed response. What are the implications for children with disabilities like Mira? Although the law does give a choice and an option for home-based education to parents, did Mira’s mother really have a choice? Parents of children with severe and multiple disabilities are particularly vulnerable because society often does not see the point of their child going to the school and thus may not provide the required support. Parents, particularly those with meagre resources, have an unequal relationship with the system and this is evident from how their children are “pushed out” of the system more easily. Again Mira’s story is an example in point.

Post-amendment, voices have argued that home is the natural and first place for life-long education for all children and thus why should we legally legitimise it for children with high support needs? If we are legitimising it, then why only for children with high support needs, and not for a child who is excessively shy or for a child with a different learning style? Should they also not be given an option? Why do we not think about asking children their own choice for the type of schooling they want to opt for? Should they not have a voice in a matter that affects their life?

Objective

Is education only for personal gain or does it also offer benefits for the general growth of an entire community providing a place for children, youth and adults to interact, socialise, and unify societies? If we agree with the latter, then clearly home-schooling cannot really provide for this goal. Having ratified the CRPD, will categorising children as those with “high support needs” or not be appropriate? The Convention sees disability as part of human diversity and therefore persons with disabilities as equally valued members of society. It underscores the fact that disability is not just a medical issue. People become disabled because of all the social, cultural, economic, political and other factors that prevent them for participating fully in society.

We also need to consider what are the opportunities available for children with disability from the large population of migrants. Who would identify and certify the children as severely disabled for providing the home-based education programme? What would be the kind of curriculum and standard of pedagogical principles followed? How often will these children be visited and by what kind of professionals? What kind of support will parents entrenched in the daily grind of making ends meet be able to provide? Furthermore, are we in a position to provide the required support such as rehabilitation services at home, social security for the family, and personal assistance for the child everywhere in the country? Who would monitor them if they are abused or given corporal punishment? How will the children in home-based education access the midday meal or other such incentives? Will not the state be shirking its responsibility to improve mainstream education systems to better respond to differences and diversity of learning and learners if we start labelling children as “uneducable” within the education system? There is also a possibility of misuse. For example the parents of a partially deaf girl or a girl with low vision may not be able to escape the inclination to opt for home-based education possibly due to social or financial constraints. In addition, discrimination often has multiple dimensions such as a girl child with disability who may find herself “doubly disadvantaged” on account of her gender and disability and may remain uneducated for life.

Towards inclusion

Home-based education may have a negative or perhaps even a regressive impact on teachers’ attitudes as the responsibility to address different learning needs is passed to special educators in-charge of home based education. This will mean moving away from the principles of non-discrimination and inclusion. Many argue that the current regular schools do not offer any relevant service for children with high support needs. A few feel that children with multiple disabilities, low functioning intellectual disabilities, the deaf-blind, the autistic, and others such as those with a high level of osteoporosis will definitely need the home-based option. The counter argument is: how can systematic changes be planned if these children remain hidden at home unseen, unheard and unknown to anyone? How will children learn to live together, respect differences and diversity and realise each other’s strengths and weaknesses? How will we move towards building inclusive societies if our schools are not inclusive?

Home-based education cannot be the only alternative. It can at best be considered a preparation for including children with a strong will to bring them back into the mainstream. We will know how progressive this move is as we build research into the implementation of the RTE Act with its amendments. What stands out clearly though is the need for concerted efforts to make provisions in the Act a reality. And to make parents having to sign declarations absolving schools of their responsibility of children with disabilities (as Mira’s mother had to do) an action of the past. Let us join hands to make schooling and life a happy experience for all children, acknowledging, respecting and celebrating diversity as enriching humanity and a normal aspect of society. Our efforts ought to be geared towards “All for the children, for all the children including Mira”!

(Anupam Ahuja works in the Department of Groups with Special Needs at the National Council of Educational Research and Training and has three decades of experience in the field of education. ahujaa56@gmail.com)

More In: Lead | Opinion

rise in learning disabilities that are being diagnosed in Western countries and also in
India. Many people have observed that children allowed to learn at their own pace
will learn more meaningfully. Some schools allow for such learning, but increasingly
the pressure of standardized curriculum and testing makes this all but impossible.
Compound that with earlier start of formal education (who waits till age 6 now? the
admissions race begins far earlier.) and the child who is busy thinking or exploring
interests other than reading, writing and arithmetic is not allowed to do so, but
labelled slow or disabled, or having attention deficit, or defiance. Instead can we not
recognize that child as learning?

from:  P Aravinda
Posted on: Aug 16, 2012 at 18:14 IST

the communities that the author is concerned about, namely migrant workers,
ragpickers. I am not suggesting that rights of the children with disabilities should
wait till we uphold rights of the communities to housing, employment guarantee,
rations and other schemes, that would improve their overall quality of life. But to
leave all those questions alone and only seek enrollment in the same system of
standardized education will not bring us any closer to the vision of society that the
author has espoused.

The author's ideas about education, home-education, school-education, and
community growth seem to be unexamined.
"Most often when we talk about educating a child, we think about school and believe
that true learning can only take place within the four walls of a formal classroom."
Who believes this? Does this ring true with your own experience? Is it supported by
research? How many schools today are ready to embrace true learning-to allow
students to depart from the script

from:  P Aravinda
Posted on: Aug 16, 2012 at 18:10 IST

we should not be like ostrich.home education is not a permanent solution.for overall development and to enjoy the life, a person have to be be out of his home. instead we should have the sympathy with the disabled.as they are also humans and not aliens.

from:  Rutvij H Hedamba
Posted on: Aug 15, 2012 at 19:18 IST

I wonder how many that comment on home schooled children's development have actually
interacted with them? I have. And all of them are far more balanced, mature and socially
adept than peer pressured school goers.

Home schooling takes thoughtful parents willing to spend time with their children. This
amendment merely recognises the legality of the choice made by such parents and has
nothing to do with discrimination of any kind.

from:  Subhash
Posted on: Aug 15, 2012 at 08:56 IST

The RTE really empowers every child who wishes to go to school and his/her parent the opportunity to do that! It is their choice. Also, by allowing home schooling, it empowers children who wish to pursue their own learning journey along with the parents who can facilitate that journey the opportunity to do that! That is what the RTE is trying to foster. But proclaiming judgements about the impact of home schooling or regular schooling may be like missing the forest for the trees. All systems have its strengths and weaknesses. The likelihood that parents compensate for the perceived limitations of home schooling are higher than regular schooling systems compensating for its limitations. Else ragging/teasing would have stopped a long time ago.

from:  Manoj Nair
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 22:16 IST

This move of government is to be appreciated as it will help in
protecting the child from mental torture and teasing that he
would face in school. but again we have to look at the other end
also, the environment which a school creates can't be created at
home, it also promotes exclusion to some extent in one sense. The
society has not matured along with other developments, unless
society accepts such human diversity in essence govt policies
would not yield results. Choice must given to the parents and the
child to opt for the mode of education they wish to rather than
making it binding. The power to exercise one's choice is what we
call empowerment.

from:  Meena Manish
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 16:51 IST

I am agree with writer's opinion. If government has sanctioned RTE act for children with disabilities, why the schools and colleges not ready to implement it. Being human, they(disabled children) have equal rights to get educated in equal manner. So inspite of home-schooling, normal school should also not create discrimination.

from:  Dhans Raj Yadav
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 16:25 IST

A great view by the author on RTE act. Home education lacks children to grow socially, physically and mentally too. If a child can learn everything by sitting at home, then there is no point of having schools. Even though the physically disabled children cannot have all the fun or they cannot aprticipate in all the activities performed in the school, they can atleast learn about those activities, which is practically impossible to learn sitting at home.

from:  Mohit Bagadia
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 15:02 IST

Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is
unconstitutional and it flies in the face of article 19 of the
constitution. The govt does not have any authority to force the private
institutions to do its bidding because they are private.The govt does
not understand the definition of being private.Now as far as disabled
children is concerned they will be better taken care in home rather than
govt or private schools,because they can be catered better in the home
for their special requirements at home rather than school.To force the
schools to take care of disabled children will create problems for
everyone in the school,as the school will be unable to satisfy
anyone.The kind of political distraction we have in the ciriculum with
political parties distorting history the home based education seems to
be a better alternative.The author's view in this article seems to be
emotional rather than rational as all socialist ideas are.

from:  Satish
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 12:49 IST

children learn to comment on others from their narrow minded parents, if they are taught to help and support needy the life of the distressed and diabled people will be colorful in the society. The instincts of child will shape up from the day he/she was born,so the behaviour and character of child reflects others around the child. Once a child on road called me Hello uncle!! on seeing that rest of the children with him wished me the same. If the same child throws a stone the others would tend to do so. Criticising nature of children is the mistake of the parents and the society.

from:  Venkat
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 12:49 IST

A very sensitive and thought provoking article about the homeschooling
‘privilege’ being ‘offered’ to children with disabilities – in a
context in which it is the schools that prefer not to include. True,
schools can extract a high price for ‘inclusion’. The numerous
responses testify that this article has indeed touched a chord. Home
schooling gained popularity in USA especially after incidents of gun
related violence in its schools. But,just because it is the current
fad in such countries – does it become desirable for India where such
a 'privilege’ will be more eagerly pounced upon by unscrupulous
exploiters and beneficiaries of child labour.? Compulsory school
attendance laws were repealed by developed countries only after they
had successfully abolished child labour and ensured completion of
primary and even secondary education for ALL children. Those wanting
home schooling in India today need to learn some home truths first.

from:  Nalini Juneja
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 12:20 IST

I do not agree with the concern raised by the author that children subjected to home based education are more likely to get abused and become victims of corporal punishment. In recent times we have heard of a number of cases of child abuse and harsh corporal punishments not only in the government schools but also in the private schools. Its a harsh reality that our schools have not lived upto the expectations and have not been able to provide the same security to the child as much as he gets at home.

from:  Rishi Sharma
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 12:19 IST

Education is not only about studying the books,give exams and move to
next level , real scope of education is much wider then this which
include overall development of Child and School plays very important
role in this because its a place where all the students from differnet
background and culture meets.It helps child to know about the reall
human diversity and help a child to grow on the social child. In case
of Disabled childs , it becoame role of School become more important
becasue if we donot allow them to become part of Scociety at initial
level , it will be very difficult for them at later stages of their
life and even i would say it will become difficult for Society to
accept disbaled people due to lack of knowledge.

from:  Ashish Gupta
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 12:12 IST

According to article 15 and 16 in our constitution,it state about prohibition of discrimination.everyone has right to access to school and merge with society but home based education to disable children will snatch away their rights.these are not disable children but special children.so government should take such steps so that such discrimination can be removed.because every children either disable or normal are future of our nation and government should not put our future in dark by implementing home based education

from:  pooja shukla
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 11:27 IST

I think this topic is a highly debatable one even for the educated and scholars. At one end we have the home-schooling which resists the child from social and interacting skills. From the basic level it retards one from traits such as team behaviour, communication with society and the important of all-the quality of friendship. They mould into persons with restricted environment along with restriction of their mental ability as well. At the other hand we have children being sent to school where there is pretty chance of physical and mental torture or teasing. It makes them completely incompetent and distressed. They lose to smile and enjoy the beauty of life which has already got turned into a black planet.They ascertain themselves useless and brings them to grade of self-destruction.So this is an area which requires serious feedbacks and respective actions.Anyway the result must possess compulsory education to all irrespective of their disability.

from:  R.sri Rohith
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 10:41 IST

Very well explained.
It is our,society, choice to either empower the society by enriching diversity or to make it the body of privileged sections.

from:  Hemant Kumar Meena
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 10:16 IST

I really feel that I missed studying and growing with such children. As a school dress is mandatory to make the students look as same class and thus making one society but if students with disability are allowed at the first place, what difference would a school dress make. As the author has mentioned that apart from physical disabilities there are other disabilities too. And there are still other disabilities too that only the child feels. This makes the child feel left alone and only person with disability present around.

from:  abhinav
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 09:21 IST

Right to Education' is now a fundamental right and above all,
education that too in school is necessary for overall development
of a child like for his personal, intellectual and societal
development which grooms his/her overall personality.The above
amendment is actually a violation of Article 14: Right to Equality
which prevents all forms of discrimination. So, violating ART.14 on
one hand and following the UN Convention on other hand, what the
message, our government want to convey. Does so called upper class
educated society believe in such discrimination ? We have to think
then that Can India be a superpower with such issues at the
horizons.

from:  Neeraj
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 07:58 IST

This amendment has little to do with the issue of societal inclusion.

Post RTE, It only recognises and legitimises my choice to educate my children at home. I
know of families that migrated away from Germany, because home schooling is illegal
there. Glad that better sense has prevailed in India.

from:  Subhash
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 07:54 IST

After reading this article, I just remember Aamir Khan's special
episode regarding differently able persons' on his program 'Satyameva
Jayate' in StarPlus, where he raised issues about exclusion of
differently able persons in normal schools. He also focused some
schools where all are welcome whether he/she are differently able or
not and some institutions where no discrimination at all regarding employment. My opinion regarding home-based education is, if parents
support and the child is ready for home-based learning, it is better
for them. Or, if he/she and parents able to send him/her to a normal
school, it is the best for them. But there should not be any questions
regarding their employment, if they are qualified for the respective
job.

from:  Bipul Kr Rabha
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 06:50 IST

There is a lot of truth in what the author says. But, home-schooling is
followed around the world even in advanced economies, and it is by no
means a hindrance to an active social life later on. So, home-schooling
should be made an option for every child, not just those with
disabilities. Also, it is not practical for every school in the country
to have the requisite support system for children with disabilities.
Until more progress is made in this regard, it is best to provide
children with an option for home-schooling.

from:  Gayathri
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 01:58 IST
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