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What Does NEP 2020 Say About Girls With Disabilities?

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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.

What Does NEP Say About Disability?

India’s NEP (National education Policy) 2020 seeks to empower children with disabilities through their integration and inclusion within the education system.

To that end, the policy has suggested several measures to ensure barrier-free access to education. Some of the major steps proposed are:

  1. The recruitment of educators with cross-disability training for children with multiple or severe disabilities,
  2. The option of receiving education as per preference, including home-based education, neighbourhood schools, and special schools,
  3. Formulating guidelines regarding assessments to ensure equity and opportunities for students.

However, NEP 2020 has its shortcomings in its discussion of disability, one of them being how it interacts with disability and gender.

The Problem?

Put simply, the biggest issue here is that NEP 2020 does not recognize the gendered divide that already exists in education. It fails to acknowledge the existing divide between boys and girls.

The socio-economic fabric of India makes girls more prone to dropping out of school. Safety concerns, early marriage, and patriarchal perceptions regarding women and their education hinder the schooling of girls across the country.

When disability is brought into the fold, the situation further worsens. In 2019, UNESCO published a report titled ‘State of the report education for India 2019; children with disabilities where it attests that “A girl child with a disability is especially vulnerable and there is a high probability of her exclusion from the education system altogether.” Overall, there are more boys with disabilities enrolled in school than girls with disabilities.

NEP 2020 does not engage with gender and how it plays a role in whether or not a disabled child will attend school, the quality of their education, and the special challenges they face pertaining to their gender. Therefore, although NEP 2020 has several points discussing how to increase educational access for disabled children, it does not talk about how to bridge the already prevailing enrolment gap between boys and girls.

So, How Exactly Are Girls Affected?

Girls with disability exist within the intersection of their gender and disabilities. Although NEP 2020 examines the two separately, it does not evaluate the reasons why girls with disabilities do not attend school and what can be done to address these reasons- although it talks about them in sections where gender, exclusive of disability, is discussed.

For instance, NEP 2020 has noted that one of the major concerns for the parents of girls is their safety. They’ve found that families are more willing to send their girls to school after they were given bicycles, thereby increasing girls’ enrolment rates. By providing bicycles to girls, two factors that contribute to whether or not they will attend school are dealt with: safety and transportation.

Similarly, the biggest cause of concern for parents of girls with disabilities is safety. Yet, no provision has been made to tackle this. For girls who are unable to use a bicycle, an alternative, safe way of travelling to and from school needs to be provided.

This exclusion of gender is also there in the education process of teachers. NEP 2020 states that all B.ED teachers will be educated on how to mentor and conduct classes with students with disabilities. It also gives the option to teachers for a post-B.ED specialized diploma course, which will focus on making the teachers equipped in understanding specific disabilities, and how they may help their students with those disabilities in the best possible manner. The emphasis has been to instil competency and compassion in teachers so they may guide their students adequately.

However, even here, NEP 2020 does not state whether these programs will enable teachers to engage with girl students and the problems they face. In this situation, a gender sensitization programme is not enough; it has to include thorough instruction in how to guide and educate girls with disabilities so that they are able to participate and grow in their education and life.

Academic education apart, the teachers must also know how to help prepare the girls for their futures. In India, only 22% of persons with disability studying in colleges are women. Most girls live with social norms that they must abide by. For women with disabilities, it becomes even more difficult to go around societal perceptions and expectations.

Of course, things such as the economic background of the girl, the severity of her disability, etc., all play a role in whether or not she pursues higher education. However, if teachers can engender confidence among the girls and help them navigate and plan their futures despite their expectations, perhaps more girls with disabilities will attend college and become a bigger part of education.

How Can NEP 2020 Do Better For Girls?

The policy is flawed in its thinking of disability. It assumes a homogeneous method of teaching students with disabilities, undermining how much of a difference gender makes for disabled girls. One way to ensure that the voices of these girls are heard is through the data that help determine what kind of changes need to be made.

Annual education surveys either do not collect data from disabled children or do not report the data. To ensure that education for girls with disabilities is properly practised, their representation through these surveys is essential. It is only by devising and implementing a plan specifically for girls with disabilities can NEP 2020 ensure true inclusivity.

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

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