By Vinayana Khurana:
It had been a while since I was sitting in a wheelchair, outside the principal’s office at a school in Patparganj, Delhi. As my parents and I awaited our turn, we discussed how we could beg for admission, yet again. We were stressed as every school we had approached so far had rejected me with different excuses. Finally, the principal called us in, and said, “I can’t give admission because our Class 7 is on the second floor. We don’t have proper facilities to help your child.”
I have Cerebral Palsy. It is caused by brain damage in the cerebral part of the brain, and it limits me from doing certain things. I have a minor speech impairment, difficulty in walking and some physical activities. But nothing beyond that. I have similar thought processes as any person of my age, but some people don’t seem to get this. Schools in Delhi didn’t admit me because I couldn’t write exams or play sports. They weren’t interested in the activities that I could do.
I was seeking admission because 20 km was the distance I had to travel every day to reach my school in Safdarjung Enclave. My deteriorating health didn’t let me travel long trips, on a daily basis. Therefore, admission was needed urgently, but this solution gave rise to a thousand other problems.
Each school had their ways of denying me an education. This famous school in Vasundhara Enclave did take my written test, but they told me I failed. Liars!
At St Mary’s, I scored above average marks. So, this result came as a big shock to my parents and me. Our next stop was this other school recognised by CBSE, and located one meter away from my house. The principal rejected me straight away because of my disability and did not even allow me to appear for the entrance test.
That day, my parents and I saw a bleak future ahead of me – an uneducated life! Do children with disabilities have no right to education? This question came to my mind when I recall my struggle for education.
Eventually, it was decided that I will continue my studies at St. Mary’s, regardless of the distance.
My experience at St Mary’s school was completely different. My journey was full of achievements and learning. I interacted with children of my age group, and they learned a lot from me and vice-versa. I sincerely believe that a special school wouldn’t be able to bring out my capabilities as St. Mary’s did. In fact, one of the most important lessons I learnt in school was – nobody’s perfect!
I came to the conclusion that if I have some impairment, every other person will also have some weaknesses, which may not be visible to our eyes, but we learn to help each other. In school, I would always be a keen listener to their emotional or relationship problems, and my friends felt that if they discussed their sadness with me, half their problems would be solved. As a result at St Mary’s I made friends, who I will cherish for a lifetime.
I was in Class 2, when I first entered, St Mary’s. I wore a blue frock, and as I entered my class, every student seemed overjoyed to see me. They had brought handmade cards and flowers to welcome me! At the time, my classmates didn’t know what was cerebral palsy was. They knew I was different, yet, the same.
As I grew up, my friends began to understand my limitation, but they also knew that I had none. They helped me when I needed it. For instance, everyone in my batch knew how to help me drink water. Some would end up spilling it on me, while others did it perfectly. My friends who were good at this task would always scold the others (which I would feel bad about!).
My teachers also made an effort to understand me with the help of a communication board (which had alphabets and some day-to-day words written on it). I still remember, when I was in Class 4, I drew an elephant in my art book for the first time. That elephant was appreciated a lot, and I found myself drawing a ‘big’ elephant every time my teachers asked me to draw it. My principle, Annie Koshi Ma’am used to love me and seeing me smile was her favourite task. I still remember getting a big chocolate cake as a reward for walking independently in front of her, for the first time.
Some people still find the concept of inclusive education inappropriate. I have spoken with many parents, who insist that there should be a separate school for children with disabilities. When I asked why, they said that the teachers wouldn’t be able to concentrate on other children, if a ”special” child is in the same class. In my experience, the atmosphere in my classroom of 42 was quite “normal”, and I was able to grasp everything at the same pace. Being one of the so-called “special” children in the school, I was able to stretch my abilities to the farthest point, which was unknown even to myself. In fact, the term “special” child was mostly used in primary classes so that other children could be more sensitive to the ways of the “special” child. But as we went to higher classes, everyone got closer, and the term faded away.
As for me, I have experienced both worlds and know the pros and cons of a special school and a school with inclusive education. A special school will help you evolve physically but a school with inclusive education, will help you evolve physically, mentally and psychologically.
I was always in favour of inclusive education because I thought it gave me a larger perspective towards life. No doubt, the efforts and love, given to each child in a special school is admirable, but it is a shame that children with disabilities are not allowed to study with their own peer group. They are always marginalised from mainstream schools and their education is thought of as a burden or a social “cause”, but not as a necessity. This segregation has a major social impact, as schooling is the developing phase of a child’s life. If you really want children to understand the true meaning of equality, harmony and friendship across boundaries, the best way to let them experience it, is through inclusive education.