We dedicate about 14 years of our lives at school – 9 months of every year and at least 6 hours of each day! The influence of the time spent at school greatly defines us as individuals. Our mind is a heap of impressions. We gather everything that we come in touch with, be it in sleep or in wakefulness. Our thoughts are a product of the experiences that we have had; a synopsis of the data and information that we have gathered. Even what we refer to as an epiphany or a Eureka moment, is just another permutation and combination. Quite evidently, our milieu plays an inextricable role in our lives.
So, if the very foundation of a school were based on acceptance, equality and inclusion, wouldn’t we be more likely to internalize these qualities? If we were introduced to and raised in an inclusive environment from an early age, wouldn’t equality be more likely a part of our very DNA? That is part of the reasoning behind the Right to Education Act (RTE) in India, which makes education free and compulsory for ALL children up to the age of 14 years.
The Act makes special mention of children with disabilities/challenges, mandating free education for them from the ages 6 to 18 years in what we know as ‘mainstream’ schools. While the primary rationale behind this move is to ensure that children with challenges can have access to educational facilities at their convenience, an equally important consequence of the legislation is the encouragement of an inclusive environment in school and consequentially in society.
The infrastructure at most schools across the country is physically inaccessible for children with challenges – there are no ramps, disabled-friendly toilets, wide doorways etc. Teachers are not appropriately sensitised or trained, and there is a severe lack of specialised educational material. The NCERT study found that special educational material for children with challenges was non-existent in sample schools. Some cases have been documented where authorities have not sent this education material when requested by schools, indicating deep-rooted lethargy and apathy at multiple levels of the system.
Inclusion benefits everybody. Every person stands to gain from supporting inclusion in schools. An inclusive environment is fundamental to the creation of a level playing field of opportunities that would allow every child to reach their fullest potential. It is not the responsibility of children with challenges and their caregivers to fight for this alone. Every student is directly involved and affected by this and must mobilise to ensure genuine inclusion – have conversations with your friends, take it up with school authorities, start a petition, write a blog! However, most importantly question your own beliefs and to quote a bespectacled wise man – be the change you want to see.
About the authors: Nandika volunteers at the Amrit Foundation of India. Having graduated with a Masters of Science in Human Rights from the London School of Economics, she is currently working in the fields of gender and disability rights.
Ujjwal volunteers at the Amrit Foundation of India. Having graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Management from the University of Warwick, he is currently interested in the study of marginalized groups particularly the inclusion of sexual minorities.