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Does NEP 2020 Consider The On-Ground Realities Of Students With Disabilities?

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The problem with the Indian Education System largely remains a problem of accessibility, proper distribution and incentivisation of teachers and trainers, and a parochial mindset when it comes to approaching student-related problems.

The New Education Policy, introduced in 2020 places hyperfocus on examination patterns and timeline structures, leaving behind the shortcomings and gaps that persist in implementation. The policy still does not make any significant changes to the educational framework which largely remains exclusive in nature.

There is very little mention of barrier-free special education especially in the context of classroom experiences, student diversity, resources and training available for teachers. With respect to special education, the New Education Policy clearly mentions special schools and home-based education without considering the consequences of such segregationist policy endeavours.

Policies introduced to take a minimum of three to four years to be implemented. Even then, for the effects to translate into ground-level action, what we need is active de-stigmatisation and inculcation of a human touch to transform the pedagogical processes operative in our country’s education system.

Representational image.

The Barriers In NEP: What About Ground Level Implications?

In a conversation with Youth Ki Awaaz, special Education teacher Neelam Katariya provides an insight into the hindrances she experienced while working at the Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in New Delhi’s Soami Nagar.

“I think a lot of policies that we have today fail to recognise how different things are at the ground level. While I agree that change is happening, at a personal level, I still have to grapple with a mindset that views special education as an extra non-teaching job.

Often, I have to devote my time to clerical work and find it difficult to take out substantially ideal hours for my students,” she says.

Even when there is a designated position for special education, there is a high level of ambiguity around the functions of the teacher, not to mention the lack of resources that further add to the difficulties.

There’s widespread unawareness even amongst the teachers that inhibit a student’s access to proper diagnosis and treatment.

“Most teachers are unaware of the difference between mental and physical age and the overlapping nature of many learning disabilities. The general viewpoint is to push the students and make them adjust as opposed to altering the system for them.

Even as a teacher, there’s no substitute for me and I often have to engage myself in extra work like exam duty. It’s a difficult situation not only because of resources but also because of how things operate within the school,” says Ms Katariya as she provides her insight.

Ms Katariya further shares how the situation hasn’t changed in the past one and a half years. Due to the pandemic, most children have negligible access to mobile phones and data, making one to one interactions virtually impossible. Some amount of work done through worksheets and activities is still possible, but according to her, the real problem persists in the area of bringing in new children, especially those who are young and in their formative years of learning.

“I have thirteen children with me who I attend to on a priority basis, paying additional attention to those who need more than just academic assistance,” she adds further.

A great step in the right direction has been the setting up of district-wise therapy centres where children with special needs (CWSN) can engage in speech, art, and sensory therapy after obtaining a reliable diagnosis. It’s an alternative bringing in much relief especially for the parents of children who can not afford private therapy.

According to Ms, Katariya, even though this project was introduced five years ago, initiating state-aided therapy, incentivising and increasing special education and counselling jobs seems to be the best approach forward.

girl school disability
There is very little mention of barrier-free special education in the context of classroom experiences, student diversity, and training available for teachers. Representational image.

The Critical Role Of Parents In Inclusive Education

The New Education Policy also fails to recognise the need for interaction-based, inclusive education wherein the role of parents is equally important.

“Whatever work we do in schools becomes nullified as there’s very little assistance at home. Most children have both their parents working. Considering most of them are from difficult socio-economic backgrounds, they’re unable to seek guidance or resources to work on themselves,” Ms Katariya remarks further.

Teachers and parents are still left ambiguous about various considerations such as resource constraints, cultural angularities, assessment patterns and the regulatory bodies in charge of implementation and smooth functioning.

It’s Worse For Girls With Disabilities. What’s The Way Forward?

The problem of implementation also correlates to the problem of inclusion and integration which are often used simultaneously. For decades, the Indian Education system has worked on a model that prioritises integration and uniformity rather than inclusivity.

There’s very little focus on altering the core structure of the system that has time and again failed to recognise individual differences and diverse backgrounds.

A balance between individualised attention and inclusive practices within the classroom needs to be struck so that teachers are better equipped at recognising various forms of learning disabilities and not perceive these children as specific burdens. This, as pointed out by Ms Katariya, is fully possible when teachers are allowed the time and space to do their job fully instead of mere clerical involvement.

The NEP with its emphasis on foundational literacy and numeracy, tells us significantly less about the future of those already enrolled and facing adversities.

“Even if the child continues till class ninth, depending on the nature of the kind of assistance they’d need, further education becomes a tricky arena to navigate,” says Ms Katariya. For her, a great step forward would be to focus on vocational training and centres so that children with special needs can become self-reliant. This would not only give them a sense of independence, remove the perceived familial burden, but also stop parents of girls from marrying them off.

Ms Katariya tells us how even today, in a lot of situations, parents of girls with disabilities tend to marry them in the hopes of reducing their supposed burden. Their situation doesn’t become any easier after marriage. In certain circumstances, the married girls bear children which, with the mother, are then left to be taken care of by the parents.

 

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The need for proper sensitisation becomes even more important when dealing with different yet difficult situations a teenage child with a learning disability might go through. According to Ms Katariya, there are times girls with intellectual disabilities are unable to handle the onslaught of puberty and menstruation.

Citing a case she took care of, a girl with a mental age of six is unable to handle herself when she starts her menstrual cycle. As a result of which, she’s perpetually dependent on her mother and sister. For such children, especially girls, discussions around bodily autonomy, sexual health, exercising informed choice, and the right to say no becomes even more important. Their vulnerable position mustn’t hinder their ability to have a full right over their bodies.

As mentioned by Ms Katariya, the focus should also be on sensitising and educating the teachers and building time focused Individual Educational Plans targeted around the social and emotional capacities of the students, in addition to their academic capabilities. The narrow-minded focus on special schools would inevitably nullify the vision for inclusive education and further perpetuate the idea of uniformity as opposed to unity and a widening space for changing the system by its roots.

The only way any educational policy will translate to actual positive effect would be by valuing and training teachers, removing any structural or departmental hindrance, and making sure all children with special needs are given adequate attention and material support for them to live a dignified, independent, and informed life.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.

Note: The author is part of the Sept-Oct ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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