Recently, the Supreme Court of India has made an observation that students with disabilities must be admitted to ‘special‘ schools. The apex court has said that it is ‘impossible to think’ that children, who have any kind of disability or have a mental disability, can be imparted education in mainstream schools along with ‘normal’ children.
I would like to draw the attention of our apex court that India ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007. Article 24 of the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) states that the children with disabilities should not be discriminated against and they should be able to participate in the general education system. Goal 4 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
According to the Right to Education Act, 25% of the seats in private schools should be reserved for poor and disadvantaged groups. If students with disabilities are placed in ‘special’ schools they would not able to gain the benefits given to the people in the EWS quota.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act also supports the objective of achieving full inclusion of students with disabilities.
The best practices that are prevalent worldwide and even the policy framework of our own country indicate that the time has finally come to end the separation of students who have disabilities.
The conventional approach in the educational system was that the learners had to kneel down before the teaching styles. But the new approach of providing accommodations says that the teaching styles have to bow before the need of each and every individual. This is the real basis of inclusive education where students are provided with community membership and greater opportunities for academic and social achievement; where each and every student feels welcome and that their unique needs and learning styles are attended to and valued.
Students have higher achievement in fully integrated environments. It is a win-win situation for everyone. Students without special needs can gain a number of important benefits from relationships with their classmates who have special needs. Some of the benefits include friendships, social skills, personal principles, comfort level with people who have special needs and caring classroom environments. So that meaningful learning is enhanced.
Inclusive education promises to enable children with and without disabilities to grow up together where the teachers teach students and not disability labels. Unfortunately, in a segregated educational set up students with disabilities can be blocked from meaningful interaction with knowledge and diversity of the outside world.
Deliberately segregating them can make their transition from schools to college and university and from universities to the world of work more difficult. Students with disabilities can be blocked from meaningful interaction with knowledge and outside world due to an inflexible text and instructional set up which may inadvertently create physical, sensory, effective, or cognitive barriers.
Rather than segregating them we need to ensure that all students with disabilities have an equal access to the general curriculum or enjoy comparable opportunities that our educational system offers.
I would like to request the honourable judges of Supreme Court to reconsider the whole issue that ”it is possible to think” that children with disabilities can be placed in mainstream schools.
Flexibility is the key here. Teachers in inclusive schools would have to be trained to vary their teaching styles and to meet the diverse learning styles of a diverse population of students. Several strategies can be employed by the educators to give these students access, including using a curriculum that has been universally designed for accessibility.
What our education system really needs is universal design in instruction. It provides an approach to teaching and learning that enables teachers to reach all students in their classrooms despite the great diversities that exist. Universal design along with assistive devices can thus level the playing ground where the students, as well as the teacher with disabilities, can show their full potential.
Education is the whole package of transmission, acquisition, creation and adaptation of information, knowledge, skills and values which prepares the students to contribute towards communities and workplace. It is a key lever for sustainable development. In the areas of attaining knowledge and information, we are all diverse individuals. The neuroscience of learning emphasises on three key aspects of pedagogy: the means of representing information, the means for the expression of knowledge, and the means of engagement in learning. Means of instructions have to shift their methods from delivering instruction to promoting learning.
We are all unique. We learn differently, we express differently and we all represent differently. And inclusion is an effort to make sure that diverse learners – those with disabilities, different languages and cultures, different homes and family lives, different interests and ways of learning – are exposed to teaching strategies that reach them as individual learners.
Inclusion is neither a concrete nor a tangible thing that can be built up over the night. This philosophy is based on the truth that we all have our own strengths and weakness and we need to accept and adapt accordingly if we want to keep moving ahead by maximising our individual potential. The philosophy of inclusion is based on tolerance, pluralism and equality. To be fully functional, this philosophy has to be absorbed continuously into the psyche of each and every individual of the community and that too in a sustainable form.
The concept of inclusive education is based on a vision of inclusive societies in which all citizens have equitable opportunities to access effective and relevant learning throughout life, delivered through multiple formal, non-formal and informal settings. Our job is to carry the idea of inclusion and accessibility down to the level where there are no divisions.
We need an educational framework where ‘silos’ are dissolved and collaborative teaching structures emerge at all grade levels.