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Inclusive education: Together with our specially-abled friends

-Radhika Boruah*


The forms of explicit teaching and support required for children with a learning difficulty or disability are often beyond what a regular class teacher can reasonably be expected to provide whilst teaching a whole class. Over the last ten years, inclusive education has been growing as a movement to enhance education for all students, especially students with severe disabilities. For the first time in the history of formal schooling, the education of specially-abled students directly impacts on the structure and operation of "regular" education; and the working of typical classrooms and schools impacts directly on special education. While schools are expected to teach many "subjects", the most central historical expectation of schools is that they teach children to read, write, listen, and speak. Education at the forefront today necessarily includes opportunities for specially-abled children. Inclusive education is increasingly a focus of schooling all across the world, and with creative and careful planning, educational curriculums can be adapted to meet the needs of every student in the classroom.


The main goal of inclusive education is to provide special students with the opportunity to learn alongside their peers, in "regular" classes and the call of the hour is to find ways to make ‘inclusive education’ feasible and accessible for them all.


‘An inclusive education system can only be created if ordinary schools become more inclusive; in other words, if they become better at educating all children in their communities’.

-UNESCO’s ‘Policy Guidelines to Inclusive Education’


In India, even though ‘inclusion’ was envisioned in the ’60s, there was a regressive vision regarding the education of students with special needs. According to a survey conducted by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, numerous inconsistencies are hindering the inclusion of special children into regular schools. Firstly, there is a lack of choice for the admission of students as these children are persistently asked to be moved to special schools. About 80% of the Indian population lives in rural areas without provision for special schools. Then, there is a lack of facilities in government schools that are only aided to admit ‘regular’ students. Third, the process of identification of special children in different schools was found to be non-uniform and without a proper methodology. These disputes are yet to be addressed properly by the policies and measures undertaken by the government. 


In 1974, the centrally sponsored scheme for Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDC) was introduced to provide equal opportunities to children with disabilities in general schools and facilitate their retention. Then, with the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act in 2016, ‘inclusive education’ became a statutory guarantee. However, UNICEF's Report on the Status of Disability in India (2000) states that there are around 30 million children in India suffering from some form of disability. 10% of the world’s population lives with a disability, and 80% of these people with disabilities live in developing countries. But 75% of people with disabilities live in rural areas in India. Thus, in India the number of disabled people is so large, their problems so complex, available resources so scarce, and social attitudes so damaging that the road to achieving inclusive education is a long and varied one, on which varied challenges and opportunities will arise.


Amidst the questions and challenges, let’s look at a few ways in which inclusive education can be made accessible to students in India. Inclusive regular class with differentiated literacy instruction can have some additional pull-out or in-class teaching undertaken by a knowledgeable instructor, at a different time to the regular class instruction. In this way, the student who needs it is exposed to more literacy instruction. Active learning occurs when students are engaged in authentic experiences that allow for their choices. Therefore, they particularly facilitate learning through learning-centred activities that are based on their strengths and interests, paving alternative ways of demonstrating attention, engagement, and interest as per the student’s needs. The provision of picture books, graphic notes, and story kits will aid a lot of special students as they can enhance their learning experience visually and remember, understand, and comprehend content. In other words, they need to “see what we mean.” Shared reading is an instructional activity in which students read with the teacher. The goals of shared reading include reinforcing letter-sound correspondences and concepts about print, exposing students to a variety of texts, prompting high-order thinking. It is also believed that the best way to support learning is through the facilitation of methods by which students support one another in the learning process. 


These above-mentioned methods are truly basic and for that teachers are required to be trained. It is feasible and not impossible to provide better learning opportunities to special children. Students in inclusive classrooms are empowered in the sense that they are allowed choice: choices about what to study, what to read, how to be evaluated, and whom to work with. It will make them feel included, as well as an acceptable and valued part of the society. 



*Radhika is a dynamic writer and editor with over 4 years of experience in leading successful publications. She is currently associated with Globalshala which is an educational startup that provides counselling services to students planning to go abroad for higher education. Presently, she is a part of the Research Division of Project Saathi. She has been associated with organisations like Child Rights and You, Save The Quest, DU Beat and Omeo Kumar Institute of Social Change and Development. 



References:

  1. INCLUSIVE EDUCATION IN INDIA – CONCEPT, NEED AND CHALLENGES, J D Singh, PhD.

  2. How Can Children With Disabilities Be Meaningfully Included in India’s Education Framework? Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy 


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