Inclusive Education: A Lesson of Acceptance and Equality

Thursday, 12 September 2013 0 comments

Nirupam Hazra
Like different colours in a picture

Introduction

Though education is a universal right of every child, the idea of ‘education for all’ is still a utopian dream in India. It is not because that there has been no sincere initiatives, the main reason is the concept of ‘all’ often ignored the ‘other’—who remained on the periphery for their imposed otherness. One of these othered and marginalized sections is people with disability. According to United Nations, persons with disabilities make up the world’s largest and most disadvantaged minority. There are estimated 650 million persons around the world, who live with disabilities and among them 21 million are Indians (Census 2001). But before we discuss about the education of differently-abled persons, we must have a clear concept of what disability really means.
It must be remembered that disability is a not only a biomedical phenomenon, it is a social construct which defines, determines and delimits the role and place of a person in the society. More often than not, the apparent disability becomes an excuse for discrimination. People with disability are denied their basic rights and educational right is one such basic right which often stands violated. 

Inclusive Education

Many a measures were taken around the world to promote the education of persons with disabilities, but most of them failed to make significant impact as they were not inclusive in nature. Inclusive education means education for all, irrespective of physical, emotional and intellectual conditions of the students. It is an educational approach that brings all types of students together to create a classroom or school environment based on acceptance and inclusiveness. Inclusive education discourages discrimination and segregation of students on the ground of their physical and intellectual differences. The main purpose of it is to make children with disabilities part of mainstream schooling system. Besides providing education in an integrated environment, inclusive schools also take care of the special needs of children with disabilities with the help of special educators.

Why inclusive education?

The concept of inclusive education is based on the idea of acceptance, inclusion and respect for human diversity. The integrated classroom is an ideal society in miniature, where every student is given equal opportunity of participation. Though the main purpose of inclusive education is to ensure the basic right to education of children with disability, it also serves a larger  purpose of social integration. Integrated schooling is the first step towards eliminating the discrimination a differently-abled child has to face in his or her life. When a child with disability goes to school with other children of neighbourhood, the child no more feels alienated from or inferior to ‘normal’ children. This feeling of being part of the immediate larger society helps the child overcome his or her difficulties. It instills a sense of confidence and self-esteem in the child from the very beginning of life. 

On the other hand, integrated schooling helps children without disability accept the differently-abled children as the part of the school and the society. It gives them the opportunity to learn and understand the difficulties others face. They are sensitized to the needs of the special children. This reciprocity shapes their understanding of the phenomenon called ‘disability’ and nurture a sense of solidarity. 

Inclusive education also helps sensitizing the adult members of the society—the teachers, the parents and other stakeholders. Keeping special children confined to only special schools is nothing but an attempt to marginalize them, to segregate them from mainstream of the society. So, the inclusive education, in long run, helps the society overcome its discriminatory attitude and prejudices. 

Pledge on inclusive education

Right to Education has been recognized as a basic human right by various international conventions and declarations. Article 26 of Universal Declaration of Human Right (1948) proclaimed that everyone has the right to education. Article 28 of Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) declared that all children have the right to a primary education. But the ‘Education for All’ campaign got real fillip in 1994, at Salamanca conference. In this conference, special emphasis was given on the educational needs of persons with disability. The framework adopted in this conference recommended that schools should be made open to all regardless of physical, intellectual and emotional condition of the students. For students with ‘special educational needs’, schools were encouraged to find ways to meet the demands of all children and develop a child-centred pedagogy capable of successfully educating every child, including those who have serious disadvantages and disabilities.

Salamanca Statement redefined the discourse of education of persons with disability and both developed as well as developing countries started to think on the issue afresh. In developed countries like UK, the idea of inclusive education was mostly confined to special schools which were meant to cater only to the needs of persons with disability. Though parallel schooling policy for persons with disability protected right to education of special children, the discrimination remained in the form of an imposed segregation. On the other hand, developing countries, after Salamanca Summit, also started to rethink and reformulate their policies for a more inclusive educational system.

Inclusive Education in India

The Education Commission of 1966 (Kothari Commission) first drew attention to the concerns related to the education of children with disabilities. Integrated schooling programme was launched in India, way back in 1974, by the Ministry of Social Welfare (now Social Justice and Empowerment). Since then it has come a long way. In 2001, under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), it was proposed that every child with special needs, irrespective of the kind, category and degree of disability, was to be provided meaningful and quality education. Subsequently, the educational right of children with disability was also incorporated in Right to Education Act and the draft of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2012. But in spite of all these endeavours, the education of persons with disability showed little progress in India. Actually there are some inherent challenges which are to be met to make the education of differently-abled persons a reality. 

Challenges
 
Education of persons with disability has to face multiple challenges—internal and external, individual and social. The greatest barrier is the societal attitude towards disability. Both the child and the parents have to overcome the socially imposed stigma and shame, associated with disability. Parents often show reluctance to send their child to school as the child may not be treated with proper care and respect. Children also refuse to go to the schools as they are often humiliated by insensitive teachers. In some cases parents of non-disabled children resist the inclusion of children with disability as it would hamper the learning of ‘normal’ children. All these barriers are actually manifestation of deeply entrenched societal prejudices, which made disability a social stigma, rather treating it as just another ‘dis-ease’. 

Providing barrier-free Environment
Among other challenges which affect the educational need of differently-abled children is providing a barrier-free environment. Schools, especially those run by the government, often overlook or ignore this need of special children and come up with “one-size fit-for-all” arrangement, both in terms of pedagogy and infrastructure. But it should not be forgotten that schools are there for the children and not the other way around. Therefore, schools must facilitate optimum participation of every student within his or her capacity by providing barrier-free environment.

Non-availability of trained teachers

Another main challenge that the schools face is the lack of trained teachers capable of responding to needs and requirement of the special children. Ordinary and un-trained teachers are not capable of doing this job as it requires proper skill and expertise and greater sensitivity. The job of a teacher in integrated school is not limited to teaching the students; they also play a crucial role in identification, diagnosis and treatment of students with disability. 

The lack of well-trained teacher defeats the very purpose of integrated schooling as the needs of special children are not properly taken care of. In India, there is an acute shortage of special educator. To tackle this problem, the government should initiate a comprehensive national-level teacher training programme on priority basis. Apart from this, to popularize special education as a discipline of knowledge, it can be made part of mainstream courses in universities and colleges. 

Scarcity of fund

To facilitate the learning of students with disability, special attention must be paid to their needs. They must be provided with special learning aids and supportive devices like audio-books, Braille scripts, hearing aids and special communication devices. But in many a cases, it is observed that their learning is hampered due to the lack of proper aids and customized study materials. Here, the main problem is lack of adequate funds.
A substantial proportion of fund is required for putting up a barrier-free school infrastructure. Similarly, money is also needed for procurement of supportive educational aids and assistive devices for students with special needs. Therefore, it becomes difficult task for the schools to facilitate the learning of special children and promote inclusive education. 

In such situations, government can play a crucial role by providing considerable amount of financial allocation. Schools run by NGOs should be encouraged through monetary incentives and be made partner in promoting inclusive education. Similarly, schools run by corporate houses under the corporate social responsibility programme should also be encouraged to implement inclusive education as it is not the responsibility of the government only to ensure educational rights of differently-abled persons. Besides, public-private partnership can also offer viable support to deal with scarcity of fund.

Conclusion

Finally, it can be said that the idea of inclusive education faces multiple challenges, but none of them is a reason for ignoring the educational right of such a huge number of people. Most of the challenges, in reality, are manifestation of societal prejudices and biases which deny basic human rights to someone who is not like them. Inclusive education ensures that no one is denied of basic and universal right only because he or she is different. Moreover, it is not only about education, its greater aim is to teach the society a lesson of acceptance and equality, and make it respect human diversity.

(This article was previously published in the September Issue of Social Welfare Journal)


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