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Fillip to disability studies

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New initiative: The proposed programmes will be designed to equip the learner to change the mindset of society towards disability.
New initiative: The proposed programmes will be designed to equip the learner to change the mindset of society towards disability.

A committee set up by the State government has recommended the creation of two centres of excellence in disability studies in the State. G. MAHADEVAN describes the courses that are likely to be offered by these centres from 2011.

Come 2011 and postgraduate programmes in disability studies could well be part of the bouquet of courses on offer in the higher education sector in Kerala.

The final draft report [prepared last week] of a committee set by the State government has recommended the creation of two centres of excellence in disability studies — an inter-university centre attached to the Mahatma Gandhi University offering postgraduate, M.Phil. and doctoral programmes, and the second attached to the LBS, offering postgraduate diploma programmes. The committee headed by noted historian Dr. K. N. Panikkar is expected to submit its report to the government shortly.

Mr. Panikkar told the The Hindu-EducationPlus that the inter-university centre could be set up in a couple of months. “Realistically we can expect the first of the courses to be offered in 2011,” he said.

The postgraduate programmes would be interdisciplinary in nature. Those opting for disability studies after graduating from the science stream would receive an M.Sc. degree. On the other hand those coming from the social sciences or humanities branches would be given an MA degree. “This is a first of its kind course, a programme where the MA and the M.Sc. programme are offered in an integrated manner,” committee member and member of the National Human Rights Commission Core Group on disability, Dr. G. N. Karna told The Hindu-EducationPlus.

Though there are a couple of institutions that offer courses in disability studies, they tend to approach the subject from the angle of special education. “None of them get to the core of disability studies. In that respect the Kerala programmes will be unique,” he explained. The second centre of excellence would concentrate on postgraduate diplomas in disability studies. The thrust of these programmes would be on innovations rehabilitation technology. The situation now is that disability is studied in a piecemeal fashion, as part of other disciplines such as medical science, social work, special education and so on. The programmes recommended by the committee however, are a judicious blend of theory and practice. They are designed to change the mindset of society towards disability and persons with disabilities. As such these courses would contain course work, lectures, field work and an internship. There would be compulsory course work even for the doctoral programme, he said.

According to Mr. Karna the committee took pains to ensure that the draft syllabi for these courses were not carbon copies of similar programmes offered in developed nations. “We wanted includes aspects of Indian culture and civilization vis-à-vis disability in these courses. Unlike in the west, the family support system is very good in India. What we have come up with is an Indianised syllabus for disability studies, something that is based on Indian realities,” Mr. Karna said.

The focus of these courses would not be the study of disability but would be the socio-economic sides of the subject. The situation in the country is such that there is no academic paradigm which can help policymakers understand various aspects of disability and put in place meaningful programmes for persons with disability. The expertise of leading scholars in disability studies would be made available to the two centres of excellence. “We have provided for a visiting scholar programme wherein a noted academic in this field can stay at a centre for six months to one year,” he said. The final report of the committee is expected to contain recommendations for instituting scholarship programmes for those who sign up for the programmes on disability studies. Though the Central government has earmarked funds for scholarships for the disabled, the State government too would be asked to do its bit for furthering the cause of this discipline.

The syllabi for various programmes suggested by the committee would of course have to be approved by the boards of study of universities. According to Mr. Karna the government should also put in place a mechanism to ensure that the implementation of the committee's recommendations is not derailed by a change in government. Sometime down the line, distance learning programmes in disability studies too can be thought of.

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