Promoting 'inclusive education'

Forty per cent of disabled children are outside the purview of inclusive education in Canada, while in England, more that 1.5 per cent of the total school population is still in special schools.

`Inclusive education' is certainly on but not as it should be, say experts in various education-related fields from abroad.

Deliberating on the various aspects of including educational facilities for disabled children in normal schools, experts from various fields, some of them disabled, are participating in the workshops held as part of an ongoing conference here organised by the National Resource Centre for Inclusion (NRCI).

The NRCI is an Indo-Canadian initiative started by the Spastics Society of India and Roeher Institute, Canada, a national-level institute for human rights and public policy on disability. The project is supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Says Michael Bach, Executive Vice President of the Canadian Association for Community Living, a public advocacy on intellectual disability which is associated with the NRCI, "Governments only make commitments and not act on them. A political will is needed to make things happen.''

The political will is much evident in London Newham Borough, where there are only two special schools. The area has many children with complex disabilities. Judith Cameron, Assistant Director, Special Education Needs and Support Services, says that only 0.35 per cent disabled children are in special schools, which is the lowest percentage in the whole of the U.K.

The whole process of inclusion started with parental pressure which was taken up by politicians at the local level, Ms. Cameron says. Quite an achievement and a model for other areas, considering that Newham Borough is the third poorest part of London and it has people speaking 190 different languages, including other ethnic populations, refugees etc.

Ms. Cameron, in her position in the local authority, is part of the team that heads and decides strategic framework for schools, funding etc.

Richard Rieser heads a 13-year old NGO called Disability Equality in Education (DEE) in the U.K., which provides training for teachers in inclusive education. Himself disabled by polio at the age of four, Mr. Rieser says that children learn in their own time and space, have their own targets to achieve and the teacher should be an orchestrator to help achieve the targets.

"I have had special school education and also integrated school education and both have flaws," he said. Practical difficulties in inclusive education are resource persons, access to buildings and teaching facilities. Though Government provides for one-seventh of the education budget (about 3 billion pounds) for ensuring access and other infrastructure, good inclusive practice will be achieved by restructuring teaching facilities, Mr. Rieser said.

Mr. Bach from Canada agrees on the point saying there should be a change in the teacher's training curriculum at national level, which will bring out teachers adept at handling students with disabilities in a classroom.

A Senior Lecturer in Education, London University, Jennifer Evans, who is on quite a few Government committees on formulating educational strategies, says that if steps are taken in this direction, institutions for special education training will not be needed. But a step in this direction is yet to come.

Ms. Evans stressed on the importance of political will again to achieve this end. Attitudinal change in society is one of the most important factors in this context. Only when people express their will to have the system changed will there be political pressure to achieve this.

Mr. Rieser adds that it has been shown by schools which are practising inclusive education that the fear of the people that their children will not be able to do well is quite unfounded. Results in such schools have only been better, he added.

By Shyama Rajagopal

Photo: H. Vibhu

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