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When I Was Losing My Eyesight, A Teacher Slapped Me Because I Couldn’t Read

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

Vibhu Sharma, 26 years old, now a Disability and Inclusion consultant of TheirWorld, remembers her traumatic childhood when she started losing her eyesight, “One teacher slapped me across my face for being unable to read from a book with small font size.

A quick query! Well, does this anecdote of the past and the present educational system still showcase an exact mirror image, or have there actually been tangible changes? More often than not, the inclusivity factor remains a highly contentious element even after introducing the National Education Policy (2020). But then, why and how?

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The Idealistic Tenets Of NEP 2020

The criteria of ‘inclusivity’ herein do not simply imply the effortless involvement of students with disability (both learning, mental and physical) or students hailing from socio-economically disadvantaged groups (SDEGSs). But the issue becomes furthermore sensitive when this inclusivity has gendered participation too.

The NEP 2020 has finely pointed out the need to arrange the same education for the Children With Special Needs (CWSN) or Divyang (Persons with extraordinary abilities). Thus, it has categorically charted out the policy.

It is important to mention that the very term ‘divyang‘ in itself further highlights the age-old baggage of exclusion and marginalization on a larger scale. The problem with the term divyang is that “On the contrary, it will only invoke sympathy and underline that charity is what counts.

Well, to begin with, to let girls with disabilities enjoy the same benefits as the rest of the non-disabled girls in an ableist framework, the ‘Gender-Inclusion Fund’ has been developed. This fund will thoroughly engage in providing the most effective assistance concerning sanitation, conditional cash transfers, transport, and study materials.

In accordance with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016, this policy too will enhance the participation of the disabled girls into all the curriculum ranging from the Foundational to the Higher education level.

To cater to the needs of girls with disabilities, teachers with ‘cross-disability training’ will be appointed, and they would be taught in a safe and healthy environment. Having kept in mind the various issues popping up with regard to the pandemic, the policy has provisioned for texts with large print and braille, audiobooks, NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) produced modules and lectures via Indian sign language in the online mode. This policy has introduced the National Assessment Centre, PARAKH, to let the students absorb the learning at their defined space and pace.

A Realistic View Of NEP 2020

Though the policy seems to have rung the required doorbells, yet there are major laxities that have gone unnoticed. Likewise, WHO has estimated that only 2% of 6.3 million with partial or complete disability have been trained in Indian Sign Language.

With fewer teachers adept in ISL, the inclusion of girls with disabilities has become a significant issue. In addition to this, though PM eVidya promises to cater to children with disabilities, no significant information has been left out regarding when and how to access the modules.

In the most common day scenario, the girls at large face a multitude of problems ranging from “inaccessible school environments, to missing basic infrastructures such as toilets, lack of gender-responsive curriculum and teaching practices, school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and parental fears regarding the safety of daughters.

If girls’ without disability happen to face so many issues, a girl with a disability is further doomed, both socially and mentally. With an added ‘problem‘ of disability, “They are doubly disadvantaged as they also face the stigma and assumptions attached with being disabled, as well as lack of specialized resources, or infrastructure and support, enhancing and complexifying the barriers to education.

It has been found quite often that “Families’ expectations for them are even lower and investing in their education is often seen as wasteful. The shame surrounding disability sometimes results in girls being hidden at home. If financial resources are limited, disabled boys’ education is largely prioritized….

The NEP 2020 has not outlined any definite programmes for girls with disabilities except the mention of a fund. It is true, perhaps the extensive gap tangible during Vibhu’s times is no more so wide now. However, there are still many loopholes in the policy to look out for. The ‘inclusion of the disabled students in general and the disabled girls in ‘regular’ schools is still a far-fetched idea.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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