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Less trodden path

Beautiful drive to Nimalo off Salepur in Cuttack district tough road took three and a half hours from Bhubaneswar. My colleagues and me were on our way to visit Madrasa to learn their way of functioning. From Cuttack, moved along the flow of the majestic Mahanadi, sand bank, canals and scanty livelihood of meager living. Poverty was glaring in a rich landscape.

‘Nimalo’ we reached! our destination, a small town. After several stops and asking the passersby, reached the location with a final powerful guidance by 6-7 year old boy cutting a climber with a knife pointing towards the exact location. A friendly woman in a petty shop realizing our search for something like a school (Madrasa) gave the entry into through an unassuming path. Our visit was with the purpose of gathering data for a research with permission from the authorities. Clear surrounding, fresh smell of boiling rice welcome us to the joy of learning inside.

The head teacher came running humbly, we put his awe to ease by explaining our purpose and requesting their cooperation. Entered the first room after the initial pleasantries with teachers. That was class three with four girls, sitting on the floor, with colorless Urdu books reading with a matching rhythm of the body. Each face was bright, eyes full of aspirations. As my colleagues started with the check list and questionnaires, I engaged those curious minds for 30-40 minutes. They read the book, taught me ‘alim, thhe, phe, …….’ ……’ . I tried writing it on the blackboard, as they observed with happiness the difficulty of an adult to write what is child’s play for them.

After a brief tint of learning Urdu, to put me to comfort asked if they know A, B, C, D, ……. They all said ‘yes’ and started with writing letter dictation – ‘X’, ‘T’ ‘P’….. Began another activity of identifying first letter of their names. Ayesha, ‘A’., Resham ‘R’, Sonia ‘S’, Sania ‘S’ (the identical twins), each one telling a word and write the first letter of the word , ‘Lion’ ‘L’, Apple ‘A’ and so on. I gave Cuttack all said ‘K’, compared with C of words like cut and cake, soon responded enthusiastically saying C. Slowly moved to word writing. Each one saying one word from flower, fruits, vegetables, birds, animals, 20 words were written. When the new words came, played with syllables and they created their own spelling, almost correct like ba/na/na, Jas/mi/ne. it was full time fun. Their teachers also came around and participated in the learning process.

Did not find anyone with visual perceptual difficulty or anyone struggling to identify letters and write words. One girl Reshma wrote D in reverse pattern while writing the word Dog. Allowed her to correct by herself which she could do. No writing difficulty though the writing facility was very non-conducive. They were using very thin, hard tipped cheaper pen, heavy/ long note books, leaning to the floor posture. The class room was clean, well ventilated with a comfortable blackboard which I could use as a supporting material to my spelling class. All the children had sound letter association almost perfect, handwriting legible and readable. Listening comprehension was age appropriate, behavior excellent. Teachers very happy to spend time, watch us as we interacted with children, listening to them, reading and writing with them, singing and dancing with them.

Next we went to the adjacent room that had two groups of students class two and 4-5 as one group in a same room, sitting back to back with two blackboards on the opposite walls. In class 4 and 5 group, some children read Urdu lesson, one boy aspiring to be teacher, read a poem and explained to us in hindi and odiya. Very confidant and he was happy to make us understand the poem. Class two children danced and sang songs. Next room was of class one, some as young as below five years were also there. Some shy, some smart, some outspoken, some different. They all could identify A-Z any letter while asked to recognize in a chart.

The toilet was kept very clean with a tank, bucket, mug, foot ware and a stable door that has a latch both outside and inside. The school has a fence made of laterally opened bamboo shoots covered with plastic bags here and there. One portion similar to the fence opens as gate. A bore-well is located that gives plenty of water throughout the year. The kitchen is open with a metal sheet on the top where a cook and a helper were preparing lunch for the mid day. Boiled eggs, dhall and rice were prepared and covered neatly.

Left the school with bye to the children and teaches by the time all had gathered to see us off. Elders of the village and teachers bid us alwida with ‘phir se ayiyega’ ‘hamare saath khaana khayiye’. Both sides knew pretty well that day does not come, we gave assurance, exchanged telephone numbers despite knowing we will not use it again. But for sure the teachers will cherish the exposure, children will remember the visit of the aliens that might have given some prick to some one to study further. A lady teacher choked with emotion said from your visit our children have learnt a lot, looking at people like you is highly motivating for our girls, where will they get this kind of opportunity and similar feelings. Was our visit so strong, just two hours of interaction in the school could bring tears of joy and gratitude??? We must do much more of these visits to give wings to the aspiration of the under privileged section of society. Two youngsters among the teachers continuously telling us to increase their salary, the two older ones continuously showing their gratitude for taking trouble to travel and reach their remote school was striking. Treated us with frooti/ mazaa and aam swad toffee, I consumed both, though I never drink preserved water/ juice and toffees. It is their warmth and the need to have it after the drive of the desperate need to drink something. Enjoyed frooti/mazaa for the first time.

Stopped our vehicle on the picturesque road side under the shade of a huge tree. Had our packed lunch in the serene spot. Could not resist a brief stop in Salepur Bikalo Gharo to relish the original taste of rasgolla. Headed back with rich experience preparing ourselves to work with more rigor towards the mission.

The return journey was not the same as the visit had churned my conscience deep. Village schools and teachers are suffering from identity crisis. Teachers knew their role is crucial for the future and well being of their neglected community. They want to work to bring change in the lives of youngsters in their community. There are lots of policies, programmes and schemes for the benefit of education of minority community in our country. Is it really benefiting the target? Lots of work needs to be taken up to bring the Government initiatives to the ground. I realized what is required is giving our time to be with them, listen to them, connecting with them. Spending some happy time with them, listening to their experiences would contribute much more than the schemes and programmes could. Contribution to education is not only developing material, not conducting research and publishing in journals but also giving a bit of our time and expertise through personal interaction.

An anecdote

As a practice with me when I visit any school I asked a teacher if there were any children with disability in the school. She narrated her story to say that the community does not recognize the right of the child with disability to be getting any facility. Her only son has an intellectual disability is being taken care at home by her mother while her husband works in another country. One day when the child was groaning with pain she took him to a doctor who refused to give any medicine saying ‘this kind of children should not live’. Probably the doctor could not diagnose the cause of pain. After returning home mother found that one of his teeth was decaying and she took him to a dentist and got it extracted to relive him of pain. Child is a child, mother is a mother. We need to reaffirm that we have to provide the facility / opportunity to them. How much they can empower given the opportunity is not our concern. Giving relief from pain, pleasure of being with other children of their age, leaning one word, one behavior cannot be restricted due to our ignorance.

Dear outgoing 2018 Gopabandhuans

Reminiscing the past years is indeed fruitful and fulfilling.    But hardly get time to go back on nostalgic memory lane in a busy schedule.  The ups and downs experienced in day to day life is a wonderful way to explore ourselves.  Living closely with variety of students came as a duty and lived it through thick and thin.  Many instances of pleasure, fun, warmth, despair, pain, passed through the pages of life.  But each one added to my bag of learning.  As it is time to bid farewell to yet another precious bundle of Gopaabandhu, my heart mellows down, deep within me I hear a prayer to you all constantly ‘wherever you are, have a blissful life’.  Make your life pleasant and make your surrounding vibrant. Let there be an aura radiating from you to create a school that is happy, a home that is peaceful.  I am sure the learning in the Institute and hostel will have an impact in your professional as well as personal life that you will not miss to recognise as you ascend the ladder of success.

The outcome of bitter experience is always sweet, if at all we reflect on it, if at all we own it.  Negativism is an impulse, an outburst that spring from us, but positivism is innate, natural for us.  Positivism is alive in every one by virtue of our existence in this universe.  We need to cultivate our positive inner qualities reflecting on every outburst, with each impulsive expression that creep up on occasions without demand.  Destructive emotions can be managed effectively with awareness and regulation.  As a parting message let me give you one simple art of developing this awareness and regulation – self discipline.

Self discipline is one of the key human values.  Following a routine is the simplest way to achieve this.  All the body cells, the organs are at peace with this self regulatory behaviour.  Orderliness oozes out creating balance within and around us if we can stick to routine.  With this we can hold our head high always; no need of searching for lame excuses troubling the brain and body with frequent slip from the track.  Discipline when imposed from outside is usually counterproductive. Regulation from fear never gives enthusiasm.  But self regulation gives contentment, saves from inner turmoil.  Embrace this simple value; it is not only for self, but also for others as well as for humanity at large.

 Love you all, wish you the best every moment.

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Towards Mobilizing Support for Dignity – Guidance and Counseling for Students with Disabilities-

The International Day of Persons with Disability is observed with the purpose of promoting an understanding of issues related to disability. It is important to develop awareness on possibilities of building  a society that accept disability as diversity that is natural. Dignity to persons with disabilities lies in giving them equal opportunity.  This write up is an effort to provide equal opportunity in education with little understanding about them.

There is no disagreement to the fact that children in present day schools are under more stress than children in earlier times.  As a direct consequence of this, parents and teachers of these children may also be under additional stress. Hence it is crucial that children, teachers and parents are guided as to how to cope with the changing times with its unique challenges.  When this is the situation for all the children, what will be the plight of children with disabilities, their parents and teachers? Teachers dealing with them in their schools have to be geared up to face this special challenge in the coming years. To do this the teacher has to wear the hat of a counselor at the call of time.

Like all people, students with disabilities also have basic needs for security, affection, belonging, and achievement.  In general students with disabilities are like their age level peers.  They need the warmth and security of their parents; as adolescents they seek group identification and peer acceptance; as they move toward young adulthood they become increasingly concerned with their sexual identity and as they continue to mature they seek increased independence in work and social lives.  Because youth with disability share the same basic needs, interest, values, and aspirations as their peers, guidance and counseling goals and methodologies are also parallel.   Guidance and counseling needs have to be addressed during their adolescence, to prepare them for adult living.

The major reason why people with disability suffer psychological trauma is due to the reaction of significant people to their disability.    Have we not observed that some children with disability are so well adjusted?  Hence it is mainly the way the people surrounding them understand them and provide support and encouragement.  This helps them to cope with the situation and achieve their maximum potential.  The role of a teacher is very crucial in developing this positive environment in the society.  The right act of the teacher is appreciated and emulated by scores of eager budding youngsters in the making.

Teachers have to keep in mind the following guidelines while dealing with children with disabilities.

  • They are their own persons.  There is absolutely no reason why they should be compared with their siblings, peers or even others with similar disabilities.  This could be true for academic achievement and for all other activities.
  • Each person  is different, and no matter what label is attached for the convenience of others, every person is “unique” which has to be valued.
  • The persons with disabilities are  persons first.  An instrument of achievement and production is next, for the satisfaction of parents, teachers and society
  • They have the same needs as anyone else, to love, and be loved, to learn, to share, and to grow.  That has to be catered to before augmenting their potential.
  • They have the same right as others – to fail, to fall, to suffer, to criticize, to cry, to curse, to despair. Give them a chance to do everything and learn for their experience.
  • Only those who are with disability can show or tell  what is possible for them. We who love them must be attentive, attuned observers to identify their strengths and encourage them to achieve in the field of their interest.
  • We can supply the alternatives, the possibilities, the necessary tools-but only they can put these things into action. We can only stand fast, be present to reinforce, encourage, hope and help, when we can.
  • They like ourselves are entitled to life as we know it. They, too, must decide to live it fully in peace, joy, and love, with what they  have.
  • Persons with disabilities, no matter the degree, have a limitless potential for becoming – not what we desire them to become but, but what is within them to become.
  • They must find their own manner of doing things.  There are many ways of tying a shoe, drinking from a glass, finding one’s way to a bus stop. There are many ways of learning and adjusting. They must find the best way for them.
  • The students with disability also need the world, and others, in order to learn.  Our job is to act as loving human beings by providing the opportunity they need.
  • All persons with disabilities have a right to honesty about themselves, about everyone and about their condition.  To be dishonest with them is the most terrible disservice one can perform.  Honesty forms the only solid base upon which all growth can take place.

There are certain dangers which have to be kept in mind while dealing with children with disabilities.

  • By practice, the society looks at people with disability with sympathy. The feeling of pity which emerges in the tone, voice or facial expression is detrimental to the self esteem of the individual.  The teacher counselor has to come out of this state of mind deliberately before taking a student for counseling.
  • The counselor cannot be a savior angel. In an effort to help, counselor has to be conscious not to increases the student’s dependence.
  • We should be patient in identifying the students’ interest and aptitude. There is so much of diversity in disability. We can never judge what is best for the student by our instincts and experience. We need to be cautious not to come in the way of the student’s autonomy and self worth.
  • Counselor becomes tense because of feeling of inadequacy regarding the ability to help. The counselors unconsciously reject the student because of their lack of knowledge.  This could also happen if the counselors have a tunnel vision that children with disabilities are not able to do anything.
  • There is also a danger that a student’s achievement is overvalued. This may limit the student’s actual potential and come in the way of improving the skill.

Good intentions, commitment to the task, and appropriate attitude toward students with disability will go far toward positive counseling outcomes.  However therapeutic change is increasingly found to be largely dependent upon the competence or skill of the teacher counselor.  The competent counselor then is one who is committed to helping students with disabilities and radiates confidence in their ability to lead productive, satisfying lives.  In addition, the teacher counselor possesses the necessary skills to build a therapeutic relationship with the student and judge an appropriate method and techniques to further the student’s progress.

It is towards this end, that each school should have guidance and counseling services made available to their students who have lost their way and need someone who can support them in finding their way again. Guidance and Counseling is also needed for parents and teachers to learn how to cope with situations involving their children with disabilities.

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Extreme sensitivity towards fellow human beings – A rare expression these days

Visiting the formerly famous VRCH in Bhubaneswar now National Centre for Skill Enhancement Program, was a great learning.  The young professional welcomed us, the three faculty members with a score of students on a field visit lead us to the interior of the building.   He initiated with the procedure of selection for the various courses of vocational skill enhancement. During rounds to different sections, we entered the room of electrical home appliances nearly a dozen were involved in practical activity. The trainer in the section took over the task of explaining the details. The trainer was explaining while the young professional pointed to a keenly involved worker with locomotor disability in the group and said he was a student in the same section, and is a trainee at present.  Called him to explain about the work he is doing.  As he was in between his work, surrounded by a group of keenly observing students, said he will complete it and come forth to explain. Probably he felt that his explanation wasn’t required as we were already introduced to the type of skill or maybe he wasn’t comfortable to come out distinguishably and explain or he felt that he was being called without purpose. He continued his work with single minded devotion. Something we need to learn. He demonstrated ‘work is worship’ without much ado.

Next visit was to a tailoring room. Young girls with hearing impairment dominated the group. I was walking around the section and stopped near one girl just to listen to the explanation being given by the tutor there. She immediately offered her chair to me which I did not accept.  She made me accept it through her gestures to the extent that I could not refuse. After I sat, she took another chair from the room and sat on it. Such gestures are very rare to find with the population now a days.  The hospitality and generocity she exhibited was too embarrassing to an ordinary person like me, I asked myself would I be doing this for someone?  There was no sign of impersonal feeling towards a stranger, she was doing it just for a fellow human being.  They accept us the strangers as their loved ones, showing care and concern for us.

A girl with low vision was standing close to me in Dr. Reddy’s foundation and listening. When I touched a chair facing the opposite side to the speaker,  the girl immediately rotated it in 360 degree to make it to face the speaker. She understood that I was intending to sit to listen to the person in the section who was addressing us.  What was unique was that it was done without putting forth the impression that any help was being extended. I was amazed by the dedication, solidarity and promptness to respond to someone’s unexpressed need.

A person with visual impairment was training a newly admitted girl in computer application section. When he was asked to open a word file, he immediately did so and types his name on it, so spontaneous, no hesitation, do doubt, no confusion. Fully confidant, maturity oozing in  his actions.  I interacted with him regarding his prior education and came to know that he has a bachelors in music and presently pursuing masters in music. When we showed our keenness to listen to him sing, without requiring persuasion he started a Hindi song.  His presence of mind was such that the song echoed his concealed feelings when he went on….…jag ne cheena mujhse, jo chaaha tha mai ne ….. which made all of us look into each other’s eyes in appreciation and avoid at the same time to hide the thin film of moisture most of us had unknowingly.  Such was the melody in his voice and the emotional expression in a very confidant, steady gait.

There is LOT to learn from people with disability around us. The benefit of inclusive education is that we get people from diverse backgrounds living with us from whom we can learn ‘life’. Just being exposed to them is a learning experience. It is invaluable for children during their formative years. The humane qualities embedded in the people with disabilities are beyond imagination.   I am convinced that inclusive education is an excellent opportunity to reflect and reciprocate to fill the society with love, care and compassion.

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Why and what is the confusion in equivalence of special and general education?

There is still confusion and possibilities of different interpretations from different institutions with reference to equivalence of special education to general education.  The equivalence for getting employment in the state government schools is being followed by some states whereas few states take special educators as resource teachers /itinerant teachers only,  thereby differentiating the roles and responsibilities as  ‘other’ than the regular teachers.  Admission to higher education is contentious, each institute interpreting the MOU between RCI and NCTE for their convenience.  Very recently, a student qualified national level entrance exam and was called for M Ed admission.  On verification it was found that the student had B Ed in special education (MR) from a National Institute.  The student was refused admission based on the ground that B Ed special education is not eligible for M Ed under general stream, in spite of equivalence for employment, on the argument that it is only for employment not for higher education.  The same student got admission for M Ed in another institute under the same administration without any difficulty.  NCTE 2014 regulation has relaxed several of the admission criteria into teacher education to widen the scope  of teacher education especially at the masters level. TEIs at local levels need to strengthen policies in tune with national /state levels to bring in more collaboration

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Inter and intra ministerial coordination – for success of inclusive education for children with disabilities

Thought has to percolate deep into the process of beginning coordination between Ministries and Department of Ministry working towards education and empowerment of persons with disabilities.  There is ideological clash in the measures taken by different ministries. MSJE is supporting financially for a living (Disability Pension) both at the national and state levels.  The measures taken at state levels vary considerably.  MSJE funds special schools for different disabilities by providing residential facilities. It was a necessary step when the society was biased beyond belief that they can be educated. The charity/service model followed through these initiatives may  slowly focus towards training for independent living through planned measures to meet with the global movement of moving towards ensuring human rights / positive rights for persons with disabilities.   MHRD is giving financial support for empowering the individual through education.  Health ministry is funding for medical treatment and early identification and intervention.  Early intervention and   medical treatment aim at empowerment of the individual through education thus converging with the idea of placing them in inclusive schools.  The policies of different Ministries would converge if MSJE would be giving financial benefit only for education and skill development up to the age of 18 and later, for self employment thereby promoting education and independent living.

When the in-service teacher development programmes are again running in parallel lines an example to follow is the  Odisha Government initiative in including teachers from special schools in their routine in-service teacher development programmes under SSA, thereby making an effort to bridge the cleavage to some extent.  Teachers from special schools are getting oriented to the latest developments in the education scenario which they can  implement in their routine.  On the similar lines opening for  regular school teachers can be kept in the continuing rehabilitation education programmes of RCI

The parallel systems of teacher education (special education and general education) even today claim to be preparing teachers for inclusive set up.  As per this, the TE policies expect student teachers to go for internship in inclusive set up.  But  teacher education institutes (TEIs) send their students into schools as per their convenience and most of the time they are not ‘inclusive’ in the true sense.  (Students from diverse background with respect to socio-economic, cultural,  different disabilities are not found  in most of the schools).  The special education TEIs send their student teachers to special schools depending on the requirement as per the programme (HI, VI, and so on).  Student teachers come out of their respective TEIs believing what they practiced.  Teachers coming from regular education TEIs believe that it is difficult to attend to children with disabilities in a large classroom; teachers coming from special education TEIs believe that children with disabilities learn better in a segregated set up.  Thus it is essential that our school education policies match the TE policies.  Then TEIs will have more options to send students for internship in a set up as per the policy demand. Informal conversation with heads of institutes at the secondary education level, it is found that still they strongly believe that children with disabilities should be in special schools where teachers qualified to teach (special education B Ed) are available.  The head teachers claim that the teachers in their schools are not aware of teaching children with different disabilities as they have done B Ed general, not B Ed special.

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An idea that might help for success of inclusive education

Ministry of education and policy makers may not have clear idea of the challenges a teacher / leader of school face in the implementation of inclusive education.  An idea floated has to be examined in the real context before putting it into policy.  There should be some mechanism to try out the policy related reform in a small pocket, collect the opinion of stakeholders, identify the challenges and take measures before considering a reform as policy.  As a policy children with disability/diversity should be admitted into the neighbourhood schools without fixing any reservation for admission into elementary schools.  When we talk of Right to Education there is no point in fixing reservation under SC, ST and disability sectors into admission.  A child from any excluded category seeking admission at any age below 14 /18, at any time of the calendar year should get admitted as per age appropriate placement as stipulated in RTE Act.  To see this in reality, bridge course, special provisions, have to be made available in few Government run schools as pilot.  The success of inclusion thus piloted can come as a policy which will be followed Nationwide.  The ground level workers have to be confidant and the members of the community have to be aware of it for seeing success through the implementation of any policy.

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A simple thought to cross the barrier for inclusive education

There are many schools under CBSE that are fully funded by the Government.  But some of these schools reflect the unhealthy competition leading to lots of pressure on students to perform academically.  Hoardings  of toppers in board exams is an example of a market driven approach which is commonly seen in private funded schools. Such practices in fully government funded schools can be curbed by the local level education authorities.  The encouragement to the achievers may be given in several other ways which may be planned by the school authorities.

An observation – A fully funded Government school has the practice of putting hoarding of academic excellence in the entrance gate of the school with photographs.  The school was unconsciously promoting a belief that academic excellence is the motto of the school.   In this kind of a situation parents would naturally put undue pressure on performance in exams fearing social exclusion though there is a policy initiative to support those who do not excel academically.  Children who are not able to achieve academically were suffering psychological segregation.  As a fully Government funded school, the school policy is to promote individual success, acceptance of diversity, encouragement to creative arts, without highlighting the scholastic performance.  Hence such practice of putting banners of academic achievers highlighting only scholastic performance should stop.

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Promoting inclusive education – through inclusive teacher education

RIE Bhubaneswar in practice is following reservation of seats for persons with disabilities in all the teacher education programmes.

All the students have faced several challenges and hardships to reach this level.  They have inferiority which they have overcome and some are still coping with it.  The welcoming gesture is that they are keen on changing the notion of the society about disability.  They face several challenges in their personal and academic life even now, but they are not giving priority to such hurdles rather their focus is to bring in change in school education as teachers and leaders in education in the lives of children with disabilities.

No doubt such teachers will be role models for future generation when the national priority is inclusive education.  Society and the system will have a step closer to person with disability to respect and regard.  As per the UNCRPD (2006) guideline persons with disabilities receiving all the support required in the general education system, for facilitating their effective education, the facility made available in teacher education institute has a better outcome.

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Promoting inclusive education – through in-service teacher education

An example to lead – ‘Swabhiman’ an NGO working in Bhubaneswar is recognized as the state disability information and resource centre.  They have conducted door to door survey in Bhubaneswar to identify persons with disabilities under the age of 18 years and put them in school and providing resource support to schools.  The initiative ‘Saksham’ is carried out as a movement by Swabhiman is covering the complete Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation area in a cluster approach.  8-10 schools are covered under one resource cluster and 8 such clusters are functioning since one year now.  ‘Saksham’ is providing on site coaching to the teachers employed in the schools by involving them in their day-to-day teaching activities where children with disabilities are an integral part of classroom processes

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