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Inclusive education is developing and designing our programs and activities, schools and classrooms, in such a way so that all students may participate and learn together. It also means that all students including children with special needs are welcomed by regular schools without any discrimination.

Almost 50 years back, children with special needs were given special education in special schools, but with the passage of time the concept of special schools was substituted by integrated education system which came into existence 30 years ago. However, with the passing of time, a new trend of educating children with special needs emerged and was termed as ‘Inclusive education’. The early origins of special education in India started with Christian missionaries and non-governmental agencies which stressed upon a charity model of serving populations such as the visually, hearing, and cognitively impaired (CWSN). However after independence in 1947, the Indian government became more involved in providing educational, rehabilitation and social services. Thus over the past four decades, India has moved gradually toward an inclusive education model.

Inclusive education is carried out in a common learning environment i.e  an educational setting where students from different backgrounds and with different abilities learn together in an inclusive environment. Common learning environments are used for the majority of the students including children with special needs.’

It is the need of the hour and helps build friendships and inculcate mutual respect and understanding among children with different capacities. A majority of differently abled children go to special schools, away from their peers who go to regular schools. However, the Right to Education (RTE) Act, introduced in 2012 allows children with special needs to pursue mainstream education (inclusive education). All students, irrespective of their impairment, should be educated in mainstream schools. The RTE act says that a child with ‘disability’, as defined by the Persons with Disability Act 1995 and the National Trust Act, has the right to free and compulsory education as per the provisions of Chapter V of the PWD Act,”.  To put this very simply, children with visual impairment, low vision, hearing impairment, leprosy-cured, loco-motor disability, mental retardation, mental illness, autism, cerebral palsy and multiple disability have the right to study in a regular school environment till the age of 18 years. “The RTE rules for children without disability are till completion of elementary education or class VIII or 14 years of age but for children with disability is till 18 years of age,”.

However, though some schools practice inclusive education, a majority of children with special needs still do not receive any formal education. The main problem is lack of awareness, untrained teachers and delayed funding of provisions for the children with special needs by the state and central Govt. In an inclusive setup It is not only important to provide infrastructure like ramps, toilets, accessibility to laboratories, playground, etc but also to identify, assess, educate  and support children with special needs (CWSN).

This is an important component of SSA/RMSA now SAMAGRA SHIKSHA. There are different student oriented provisions in IE component of the centrally sponsored Samagra Shiksha scheme for children with special needs  including Identification and Assessment of CWSN, Provision of Aids and Appliances, therapeutic services, escort allowance, uniform, transport allowance, reader allowance, Access to Learning Material,assistive devices,  Provision of Facilities, Stipend for Girl Students with Disabilities, Use Of ICT, Development of Teaching Learning Material, External support from an inter-dicipilinary team of experts. All the provisions are used for the upliftment  of the children with special needs and their adjustment in the regular school curriculum.

In an inclusive setup a teacher must be a well trained to cater the CWSN of different categories in his regular class room. Teacher is supposed to use diverse methods of teaching keeping the needs of  cwsn students  into consideration. Curriculum adaptation is one of the best methods to be used by a teacher in an inclusive setup. Teacher in an inclusive setup must use the methods as per the needs of the student, it is well said quote, If a child can’t learn the way we teach, lets we teach them the way they learn.”

Education is the fundamental right of every child irrespective of any difference on the basis disability, caste, religion, status etc  and each and every child have the right to equal opportunity in education. In this context, inclusion of all marginalized students effectively in the mainstream is crucial in the present scenario and, to do this, inclusive education is a strategy to make education universalized, irrespective of any disability within the learner and to maintain equity in the society. It emphasizes that children with disabilities should be included in the regular school system without any demarcation and differentiation. Although in present time Inclusive Education is binding and priority for the Government of India, still there is a big gap between the Policy of Inclusive Education and its implementation. There are lots of barriers which hinder effective implementation of Inclusive Education in our country.           

A disabled child’s family has a key role to play in making inclusive education a reality. Inclusion can only be realised by motivating and involving the family in the process. However, parents so often become embroiled in the task of curing the child of disability that they very rarely comprehend and work upon the need for providing a good education and other options of all round development, which should form the very basis of a child’s foundation to lead a normal life.

Other important stakeholders on who rests the success of Inclusive Education include teachers, peers, administrators and parents of students without disabilities. However, negative attitudes are still so persistent, that true inclusion hardly stands a chance. Teachers with negative attitudes believe that  inclusion is a burden on teachers. Often, parents of students without disabilities do not want / allow their children to mingle with disabled children. It has not been uncommon for social stigma on disability to perpetrate such parents from putting pressure on school administration to segregate disabled students from other students.

In spite of the inclusive education component undertaken on a mission mode by Sarva Siksha Abhiyan(SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyan (RMSA) now integrated as SAMAGRA SHIKSHA and the provision of 3% reservation of children with disabilities under the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, disabled children have not been able to make great strides in education.

NCERT has released the 8th All India School Education Survey (AISES) and results concerning schooling facilities for children with disabilities are shocking to say the least. Out of total 58,76,273 teachers, only 1.32% (80,942) teachers have received any kind of training in inclusive education. Out of total schools in the country, only 10% have handrails, 4% have adapted labs and 8% have adapted toilets. No wonder, that over the time period from 2002 to 2009, the number of disabled students have decreased – the most drastic decrease of 68.05% is that of orthopedically disabled students.

There is also an acute shortage in trained resource persons and special educators in our state (J&K) as per  the proportion of disabled students. Although there is a provision of home based education for children with severe disabilities under IE (elementary wing) of SAMAGRA SHIKSHA,but it is not quality education and also not provided on a regular basis for all children availing of this service because of the less number of trained teachers. If we talk about our state J&k there are only 27 resource persons and 58 special educators to look after a huge number of children with special needs that is hardly possible. Need of the hour is to recruit more RPs and special educators so that the mission of inclusive education can reach to the highest expected levels.

       Challenges of Inclusive Education

With Right to Education elevated to the status of a Fundamental Right, there is no justification in relegating the responsibilities of inclusive education upon a handful of special educators or of special schools.. The need of the hour is to develop teachers’ attitudes towards inclusive education in the context of an educational system which promotes restructuring of the curricula as per needs of the disabled child, providing more help from support teachers, creating and developing opportunities for interactive partnerships between teachers, students, support teachers, parents and so on.  Ensuring barrier-free built environment in schools is as important as providing for barrier-free transportation and roads to enable all children with disabilities to come to school and be a part of the regular school setting and also further providing access to use of information and communication technology. Making resource rooms equipped and functional is also a big challenge. The resource rooms have been constructed before 6 years but still non functional and without necessary equipments and resources.  Last and the most important, is to remove the attitudinal barriers from “they can’t” to “they can.”

The writer is ‘Special Educator (DISTRICT BANDIPORA, KASHMIR) and can be mailed at [email protected]

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