"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell












PRABUDDHA BHARATAInclusive Education | Dr. M.N.G. Mani  






            Inclusive Education

               Dr. M. N. G. Mani



"I'm learning" Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan: A Mechanism to Reach Out



     The Education Commission (1964-66), which provided for some basic changes in the educational system at large, covered a lot of ideas envisioned by Swami Vivekananda. The need to eradicate illiteracy in India was very much emphasized in its report. This was further echoed in the National Policy on Education (1986). It is disheartening that we have not even achieved 70% literacy after fifty-seven years of independence. The Commission wanted that all educated men and women available be mobilized for raising a force to combat illiteracy. The students and staff of educational institutions at all levels should be actively involved. Every educational institution should assume responsibility for liquidating illiteracy in its specific area.


Learning together  the objective of inclusive education      Education for All (EFA) is still an unfinished agenda in India and this needs to be shaped according to Swamijis vison. Thankfully, the methodology adopted by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) reflects Swamijis ideas on mass literacy and lifelong education.







     SSA - What It Is




Learning "plus-curricular" skills     Education is a fundamental human right of the child. Governments across the globe are deliberating on workable policies and practices to make education for all a reality within 2015. For its part, the Government of India has initiated the SSA. SSA is a mission, an effort to universalize elementary education by community ownership of the school system. It is also an attempt to provide an opportunity for improving human capabilities of all children. The programme is a partnership activity between the central, state and local governments and it also provides an opportunity for the states to develop their own vision of elementary education.


Play therapy     The scheme has an excellent framework and allows a lot of flexibility at the district level in adopting cost-effective and innovative strategies to include all children. It covers all facets of comprehensive education: community participation, improving teacher skills, provision of learning materials, special emphasis on disadvantaged groups, and so on.







     Aims and Objectives of SSA




Day care for mentally retarded children     SSAs main aim is to provide useful and relevant elementary education for all children in the 6-14 age group by 2010. Its another goal is to bridge social, regional and gender gaps with the active participation of the community in the management of schools. Its specific objectives are the following: 1) All eligible children must complete five years of primary schooling by 2007, and eight years of elementary schooling by 2010; 2) Focus on satisfactory quality and education for life; 3) Bridging all gender and social category gaps; and 4) Universal retention by 2010.





     SSA in Coimbatore




Orientation for parents of disabled children     The Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu stands out in addressing all facets of the programme. One especially noteworthy feature is the district administrations collaboration with the International Human Resource Development Centre (IHRDC) for the disabled of Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya to achieve education for all children with disabilities much ahead of deadline. It is a general conviction in the district that once this most difficult group is brought under the umbrella of educational services, the overall target could be reached effectively.




     Inclusive Education: Beyond Disabilities




Concept development     The International Disability Alliance, a consortium of international organizations working for persons with disabilities, has been underlining the importance of creating a rights-based, barrier-free, and inclusive society. The integrated family system and community living make inclusion a natural phenomenon in the Indian soil.








     Inclusion of Persons with Unique Needs




Early identification programmes     Inclusive education has all along been an accepted approach in general education in India, though the concept may sound recent. General classroom teachers handle slow, average and advanced learners - all in one class. This is inclusive education based on cognitive abilities though usually not labelled so. In the case of children with visual and hearing impairments, the main similarity between them and normal children is their cognitive ability. This similarity supports the education of disabled children along with normal children in the general system. With the learning of plus curriculum to cope with their particular disability, these children can also compete with normal children.


     Then why is there such a big campaign that we should switch over to inclusive education?




     Special Schools Leading to Segregation




Medical camp to identify disability     The introduction of separate curricula changed the quality and extent of services for disabled persons worldwide. Braille and lip reading were miracles in the eyes of non-disabled people, and as a result the community started treating blind and deaf children as special.


     The growth of the special school concept and the institutionalization of disabled children contributed to their segregation from society at large. Special schools became residential homes, and the coming together of disabled persons increased their sense of security. However, notions that disabled people are special or that they have a sixth sense contributed to stereotyped exclusivist responses. In special schools subjects like mathematics and science were often neglected due to the presumption that blind children would find them difficult. This focusing on the difference between disabled and normal children created a sympathy towards the former that did not take into account their human right to general education. As a result, education of disabled children remained a welfare activity for decades.


Braille course for SSA teachers     With special schools becoming costly, inclusive education is again gaining acceptance. In the past inclusion was inevitable due to lack of facilities, but today it is being seen as a childs human right to have education in the vicinity of his/her home. Therefore, revitalizing the general education system and strengthening the capacities of general classroom teachers to train disabled children are vital concerns currently. They have to be addressed before general education becomes truly inclusive.




     Disability Services in India: Some Models




Individualized instruction for slow learners     Services for the disabled in India are more than a century old. Four significant models are in vogue here: 1) Residential School for the Disabled: Mostly urban, with special curriculum including vocational training. India has nearly 3,000 such schools serving 1.5 lakh children. 2) Integrated Education - Resource Room Model: One specialist resource teacher catering to 8-10 disabled children studying with and evaluated on a par with normal children. Plus-curricular skills are taught. This is the most prominent model in India now. 3) Integrated Education - Itinerant Model: Specialist itinerant teacher with resource kit visits a cluster of schools 2-3 times a week to assist the disabled. Not very popular. 4) Inclusive Education: All children with disabilities, irrespective of severity, enrolled in general schools. All teachers oriented to their needs. Block-level resource centre for a cluster of schools. Currently preferred under EFA.


     Cost considerations favour inclusion. The cost of inclusive education per child is about Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 per annum as against Rs 7,000 to Rs 20,000 in the other models.




     Sound Policy Perspectives and Practices




Speech therapy     Inclusive education revolves round three main factors - policies, practices, and cultures. The Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 may look trivial at first sight but it is certainly a landmark law aiming at the inclusion of disabled persons in the mainstream. The Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992 is another impressive concept in maintaining quality in special education manpower development. Many countries have evinced interest in these landmark acts.


     In terms of practice also, Indias achievements are remarkable. It is true that the coverage of disabled children in its educational programmes is not more than 10%. But a figure of roughly 2,00,000 disabled children in over 20,000 schools in India is in itself mind-boggling. In addition, all inclusive practices are in vogue here and we have the expertise to help other developing nations to develop policies and practices. Indias problem was never policies or models but expansion. Now with the SSA, that too is being fully addressed.




     Pressing Issues for Facilitating Inclusive Education




Peer group assistance     In order to facilitate effective inclusive education, the following three areas need utmost attention: 1) Preparing general classroom teachers through in-service programmes, special capacity building programmes; 2) Preparation and dissemination of support materials by setting up context-specific resource centres; and 3) Developing plus-curricular skills in disabled children through deployment of special teachers, arranging summer programmes, and teaching these skills to teachers, peer-groups and parents.





     Parameters of Successful Inclusion




     Acceptance of inclusion by the general community, school authorities and parents, enrolment and retention rates on a par with normal children, admission of children irrespective of the type and extent of disability, basic knowledge and disability-management skills of general teachers, availability of appropriate teaching aids, specialist teacher and peer group support, and comparable achievements in curricular and co-curricular activities - these constitute the parameters of successful inclusion.


     Mere creation of an environment for inclusion is not enough. Efforts are needed to provide real educational support in the inclusive setting. The concept of inclusion as an ideology should be assimilated right from the classroom level, and in this context general teachers are the key players in inclusive education.




     Inclusive Schooling for Effective Education: General Teachers Hold the Key




     Good education realizes the fact that every child is special in some way or other and the purpose of learning is to optimize the childs potential. Use of multi-sensory instruction in the classroom makes the teacher better and at the same time helps mentally challenged children and children with visual and hearing impairment. So the inclusion of disabled children depends on how effectively regular classroom teachers can teach. That is why teachers hold the key to creating an inclusive environment in the school.


     Teachers must recognize the fact that true learning occurs in a non-threatening environment and try to create such an environment in the classroom. Such an atmosphere facilitates inclusion of children who experience learning difficulties. These children often succumb under pressure but succeed in a non-threatening learning environment.


     The ability of the teacher to create different learning tasks within the classroom will satisfy the educational needs of all types of children on the basis of their cognitive and sensory abilities and generate interest in learning.

Dr A P J Abdul Kalam often says that parents and teachers should allow children to dream and help them realize those dreams. In an effective inclusive setting, every child will be able to dream his/her own vision of the future and develop abilities to actualize it. The inclusive setting not only increases the involvement of children, but enriches their learning potential. It emphasizes that the child is a human resource in the learning process.

The paradigm shift from child as a student to child as a human resource paves way for a comprehensive and truly inclusive setting, where every child is treated as special and the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning.




Educating Children with Disabilities
through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan: Coimbatore Experience




     In Tamil Nadu, the SSA scheme in the case of disabled children is being implemented through NGOs already working in the area of disability. In Coimbatore district, Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalayas IHRDC is the nodal agency for programme implementation. All activities are initiated and monitored by an advisory committee comprised of officials at the district level and representatives from IHRDC.


     SSA activities include early detection and identification; functional and formal assessment; educational placement; provision of aids and appliances; support services; teacher training; resource support; individualized education plan; parental training and community mobilization; planning and management; strengthening of special schools; and removal of architectural barriers.


     Implementation of the SSA scheme requires certain procedures to be carried out sequentially. The district administration and the Vidyalaya jointly conduct medical screening camps with the support of block development officers and local officials.


     The state government allots a grant for each block for purchase of assistive devices for disabled children and the requirements are jointly decided by the district administration and IHRDC.


     In Tamil Nadu, more than 70,000 children with disabilities have been identified, assessed and enrolled in schools under SSA. In Coimbatore district 5,528 children have been identified and assessed and 4,391 enrolled in schools. Of these, 1,137 are receiving preparatory training and 3,645 have already benefited. The disabilities of these children range from visual and hearing impairment to mental retardation and cerebral palsy.


     Depending on their educational needs, the children are categorized as follows: those with mild disabilities who can be handled by general classroom teachers with minimum training; those with mild/moderate disabilities who need counselling services; those requiring occasional assistance from special educators; and those requiring frequent assistance from special educators. Children with moderate/severe disabilities who are in need of resource assistance, including corrective aids and periodical help in academic areas, are helped by the special educators of their block.


     With the support of the district administration, block resource centres have been established in all 22 blocks of Coimbatore district. Their purpose is to provide necessary training, assessment, and educational guidance to disabled children, their parents and regular teachers. Though all disabled children covered under the programme may not utilize the block resource centres, those in need of continuous training and therapy are attending these centres.


     Orientation programmes are regularly organized for block resource supervisors, teachers, ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services), anganwadi and health workers of the whole district. All regular teachers working in primary and high schools are given sensitization training on inclusion of disabled children in regular schools by special educators and trained block resource teachers. As the programme necessitates the involvement of people from all sections of society, the elected panchayat presidents are also given sensitization training on disability management.


     There are children who need special school assistance and accommodation for at least six moths to prepare themselves for mainstreaming in regular schools. Suitable organizations working in the field of disability have been selected to initiate residential training centres to help them.


     Many village education committees (VEC) have been formed which include selected community leaders, NGO representatives, local headmasters and parents of children with special needs. The objective of the VECs is to support SSA activities through community ownership and participation.


     Children with profound mental retardation experience difficulty in mainstreaming with the general education system. So day care centres have been created to prepare them for a period of one year before they are able to adapt.




     Success Stories




     The success of any programme depends on the satisfaction of its consumers, in our case the disabled children, teachers, and parents. The following statements provide a glimpse of the effectiveness of the programme being implemented by Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya, Coimbatore, and the district administration.


     Sujitha was suffering from locomotor disability. She was totally dependent on others and could attend school only with the assistance of her father. To facilitate her mobility, she was provided with a tricycle in addition to training. Now she is attending school like her other counterparts.


     Harish is a five-year-old. His father brought him to one of our screening camps for inability to communicate, when he was found to have profound hearing impairment. With hearing aids and adequate training, Harish can now communicate significantly with his family members and peers at the regular class.


     Kalaiselvi (13) was finding it difficult to get through in many subjects due to poor vision. Special school teachers advised her to continue her education in the general system. After intervention by SSA, she was helped by her special educator to use a magnifier for reading. She is at present attending a block resource centre and improving her visual efficiency skills.


     Nagamanis moderate cognitive difficulty (mental retardation) did not allow her to perform well in class. She was always left alone during daytime when her parents went out to work. After inclusion in a regular school, Nagamani made many friends and started acquiring considerable learning skills. Her parents are happy that she is picking up some basic skills and life education through regular and support teachers.




     What They Say




     This is what a general classroom teacher has to say: Education of disabled children is no more a problem since we have undergone basic training under a special educator. Disabled children pay more attention in the classroom. They never fail to approach class teachers and peer groups whenever they are in doubt. We are delighted to see their achievements. SSA is helping them gain confidence.


     The peer group has a tremendous impact on the personality development of disabled children. Some normal children describe how the SSA transformed their attitudes towards disability issues: Initially we did not know how to help or communicate with our disabled friends. The training given by special teachers has been very useful to us in establishing a good rapport with them. Inclusion of a disabled boy or girl in our class is not at all a problem for us. It is our responsibility to help them. We usually help our disabled friends in their academic studies during intervals, lunch time or after class hours. It helps us to recapitulate what we learnt in the classroom and also strengthens our friendship.


     That parents also are key players in the SSA programme needs no special mention. Their encouraging words go a long way in reinforcing our confidence: The special educator appointed under SSA helped a great deal in enabling my son to pick up necessary basic skills and get enrolled in a regular school. Though he is visually impaired, he is able to manage his day-to-day activities, including his education. Before inclusion my daughter, who is mentally retarded, could not do anything independently. She was restless and friendless. Now she has developed a good behaviour and can perform simple tasks by herself. The parents are happy that their children are getting education in local schools along with their peers.


     The heads of educational institutions are the main catalysts in the whole experiment. Their statements reflect their support for the programme: The training given by special educators to regular teachers is very helpful in educating disabled children in mainstream schools. We know a child who has speech problems but has learnt communication skills after inclusion. As a matter of fact, disabled children are performing very well in academic studies. Also they have more friends than normal children. Moreover, wheelchairs provided through SSA allow disabled children easy access to school.








     In 2003-04 the Tamil Nadu government recognized the contribution of Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya, Coimbatore, by selecting it as the best nodal agency implementing the SSA programme for disabled children. The recognition has only increased the centres responsibility to perform even better and bring every disabled child in its purview under the umbrella of education.








     A rose is still a rose when it loses a petal. A tree may lose some leaves, but it is still useful. Likewise, a human being can still be useful despite the loss of a physical faculty. Helen Keller says that the most unfortunate person in society is one who has sight but no vision. In order to understand the abilities of persons with disabilities, one needs to have a broad vision of humanistic values. An inclusive society needs the support of parents, teachers, professionals and other community members. The SSA is determined to create such an inclusive society in India. Though the performance of states vary, the climate in general is conducive to the extension of educational services to disabled children. By bringing these children into the mainstream, we will in fact be empowering them with their rights.


International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015









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