Project Shiksha Sankalp is being developed to identify children with disabilities in order to mainstream them.

Many physically and mentally disabled children are being left out of the country’s education fabric, and worse still, there is no realistic estimate about the number of such children in the country. Against this backdrop, a project is trying to identify children with special needs so that they can be brought into the fold of education.  

“There are millions of children in India with special educational needs, both disabled and able. However, there is no system in place to identify children with disability among the so-called normal children, or to identify the abilities of the so-called disabled children so that they can be part of the education system and thus contributing members of society. Thus we are working on a model ‘Shiksha Sankalp’ to map every possible child, especially the ones who are out of school, so that we can identify children with both visible disabilities and functional disabilities,” Varsha Hooja, said acting Chief Executive Officer of ADAPT, a non-profit Mumbai-based outfit.

ADAPT plans to use a tool which is being developed due to international initiative, especially led by UNICEF, under which a group of experts has been working to improve and modify the questions in a widely popular scale used to understand disability. 

“The module was developed this year, the questionnaire was finalised in June and the training sessions are going on right now so that we can understand how the questions are performing and whether they need to be modified,” Mitchell Loeb, an expert American health scientist who works at the National Centre for Health Statistics, Washington D.C. and has over 20 years’ experience in disability research, said.

He was in India for over a week to conduct a workshop for training of personnel and testing of the questionnaire which has been developed till now.

So how does the module work? Mr. Loeb explained that the standard tool used at present is called Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), which is a large survey. “One survey in it is about disability. Since the old module was outdated, UNICEF wanted to develop a new model,” he said.

Experts said that the reason for the failure of the old module was that it was medical-based.

“Disability is a loaded word. In the new module, we have not used the word, because when people are questioned about ‘disability’, they think of something very serious, they also do not want to talk about the disabilities of their family members. Thus, disabilities, which can be mild or moderate and can still hinder people’s functioning, are not identified,” Mr. Loeb pointed out.

“At present, we are in the process of testing how these questions perform, since it is important that everybody understands the questions the same way. If people don’t process it the same way, the data bank that we will get will not be good,” Kristen Miller, director, Question Design and Research Laboratory at the National Centre for Health Statistics, said.

The improved screening instrument that emerges from this analysis will be used in a pilot project next year. In it, there will be a two-stage process — screening plus camps that will offer follow-up assessments and link children to services — in about 4,000 households in Mumbai, according to ADAPT.  After the testing the protocol which will be developed will help in facilitating the mapping and identifying the out-of-school children, particularly with special educational needs. The protocol would then be rolled out over ten districts during the 12th Plan, said ADAPT.