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

Visiting the formerly famous VRCH, 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 goodness 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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The third gender – why are we silent?

Being different attracts undue attention in our social arena.  Confining to norms thus comes to us naturally.  We stretch beyond limits to suit ourselves to our immediate environment.  Be it physical, attitudinal or behavioral. Now with the recent Policies of the Government for inclusive education, diversity is being accepted and nurtured.  What matters is the ‘confidence and the inner strength!’ Inclusion is about building the inner strength and mounting confidence.  It is valuing difference, immaterial of the limitations imposed due to biological conditions.

When we discuss people being different and including them in the school for the purpose of education, fortunately we have reached a stage where we think of children with disabilities.  With several Acts, Policies and programmes, we are getting sensitive to the needs of children who are different with respect to their language and cultural practices too.  But the group of people still remaining away from education and thus from participation in the society are the transgender.  We talk less of including children whose identity does not fit into the stereotypical gender norms.   Transgender people have existed since time immemorial and have been recorded in mythology and history.  Still they are treated as outcasts in the society because they are neither like men or women.  They differ in their physical appearance and personal characteristics. Transgender persons are also part of society and have equal, rights as are available to others. The discrimination based on their gender makes them one of the most disempowered and deprived groups in Indian society. India’s Supreme Court has recognized transgender people as a third gender, in a landmark ruling.  “It is the right of every human being to choose their gender,” it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.  It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities.

An individual’s gender expression is external and socially perceived. Gender expression refers to all of the external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions.  The society gives more importance to gender expression.  But from an individual’s point of view gender identity is what matters.  It is an individual’s internal, deeply felt sense of being male, female or in between.   As gender identity is internal and personally defined and it is not visible to others people in the society is not concerned about it.  In its broadest sense, transgender encompasses anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms.

In India there are a host of socio – cultural groups of transgender people.  Though an accurate and reliable estimate is not available, According to one estimate, India has about two million transgender people.   We need to include them in all the activities of the human field and value their contribution for an inclusive growth.  Their number does not matter, but it is recognizing them as equal member of society is the need of the hour.

India being a highly populated country with different religions, cultures, castes and languages, the third gender are an invisible minority.  The not so common identity of theirs is a serious issue which needs to be addressed.  They are discriminated in our society in all walks of life be it school or any other public place.  The glaring example for this is that public toilets and most of the applications for admission to schools, colleges and employment have only two options under gender.

According to ‘Sahodari Foundation” working for the transgender, 90% of transgender don’t complete their secondary school education.  Due to their limited academic knowledge, employers offer them menial jobs.   This forces them to leave the job and engage themselves in their stereotypical profession, though they are socially unacceptable.  Fortunately due to the efforts of some activists, scholarships are offered for those who are interested in pursuing education in colleges and universities.  This is a revolutionary step in empowering them.  Educating the transgender by providing them with skill development can change their lives for better.  Academic skills along with specific vocational skills will prepare them to take up respectable jobs and lead a independent life.  The empowered transgender persons who have made a difference in their status as writers, activists political leaders, speakers and actors are worthy of emulation.  It should guide the educationists to open the doors of schools and colleges for them and addressing their needs appropriately.

Transgender people in India have been excluded from effectively participating in social and cultural life.  A primary reason of the exclusion is perceived to be the lack of recognition of the gender status. A cruel social practice of segregating them the moment they show the characteristic of the third gender appears to be the main reason for them to stay away from school.  They are still segregated in the community, without being empowered to participate in a natural way.  Reports of harassment, violence, denial of services, and unfair treatment against transgender persons in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation have been discussed in media, for which we react empathetically and forget.

The problems faced by the Transgender community have been articulated by the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA).   In short, transgender persons are deprived of the fundamental rights available to the other two sexes i.e. male and female, and are not considered as the third sex. They are deprived of many of the rights and privileges which other persons enjoy as citizens of India. The transgender are deprived of social and cultural participation, are shunned by family and society, have only restricted access to education, health services and public spaces, restricted rights available to citizens such as right to marry, right to contest elections, right to vote, employment and livelihood opportunities and various human rights such as voting, obtaining Passport, driving license, ration card, Identity Card etc. The transgender community is treated as a legal non-entity in violation of the Constitution of India. In view of the constitutional guarantee, the transgender community is entitled to basic rights and that includes right to education. Moreover, every person must have the right to freely express their gender identity and be considered as a third sex.  The problems, faced by transgender in getting proper educational facilities must be recognized by the Ministry both at the Central and State Governments and work on much needed reform.    The Constitution provides for the fundamental right to equality, and tolerates no discrimination on the ground of sex. The Constitution also guarantees political rights and other benefits to every citizen. But the third gender continues to be excluded from getting the Constitutional rights. Since gender is taken to mean only male and female, the transgender cannot avail the benefits of Constitutional rights and avail of facilities and benefits available to the male and female genders in various fields including education.

Transgender persons must be properly documented in census. There is need for reservation in education, elections and employment both in the public and private sectors. They need to be empowered and uplifted by facilities for higher education and vocational training to upgrade their earnings and status in society so as to promote their acceptability in society. When the society sees them functioning and contributing for development, the discrimination against them can reduce.  To begin with, including them in education is the best way.

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Can we decide for a life yet to be born?

Give women the choice by Devi Shetty and Sneha Iype was an interesting article in Time of India on March 31st Friday 2017. Give women the choice It was on Supreme Court verdict of turning down a request for Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) from a 27 week pregnant woman with a Down’s syndrome foetus.  Many countries allow MTP even at advanced stages in case of foetal anomaly, but India does not.  The most humble and humane doctor puts forth the argument that if mother feels that she can’t take care of the child with certain conditions, she should have the right to end the life within at the later stage even after 20 weeks as prescribed the law.  The doctor has voiced his genuine concern very sincerely by pointing at the probable pain and suffering by both the mother and the child.

Can we decide on the life of someone else who is yet to be born?  Even if mother is given the choice will it not be skewed by the societal and family more than individual?  Disability is a social construct and highly contextual.  Living in a society with stigma attached to disability is difficult and traumatic useless the mother’s choice will never to unbiased.  Her decision making gets highly influenced by the social angle and family pressure.  Moreover the medical model of locating the problem in the individual and thus perceiving that they are suffering is still prevailing at the professional level.  If we start looking at disability from the human rights angle total scenario changes. Disability of the child could be a chance for deep learning in life, they may achieve if guided in the right direction, they may enjoy the life to fullest if opportunity is given or the prenatal diagnosis may turn out to be false!!  (Ghai & Johri, 2008) Prenatal Diagnosis where do we draw the line?

But coming to the basic discussion when we have abolished female foeticide it is it just not to hamper the natural balance or is it valuing the nature’s choice?  When our constitution has enshrined “right to living” does a child with disability do not have that right?  No doubt the life span may be less but is it not better to counsel the parents and prepare them for a life than to shun away from reality?  Very difficult choice indeed.  But it would be great to have a conversation with children with disabilities and find out their love for life.  This may give a chance to the judiciary to take a stand.  In addition as a state, it would be highly appreciated if we could work towards creating a society with acceptance and embrace all- go the nature’s way.  Difference is law of nature, accept all, accommodate by creating equal opportunity to nurture every individual to the extent possible.  Ultimately differences are not for divide but contrast that provides synergies.  Given a thought, differences should unite the family and the society.

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