Children with disabilities and special needs also have the right to education just as normal children do.
Inclusive education strives to address the learning needs of children with special needs, with a particular focus on those who are subject to being isolated and excluded. The philosophy behind inclusive education is to promote opportunities for all children to participate, learn and have equal treatment, irrespective of their mental or physical abilities. While the awareness on inclusive education in schools throughout the country is still at an infancy stage, educational institutions are somewhat sceptical about having both normal and special children studying in the same classroom. And in circumstances, where a former excluded child is given admission into a mainstream classroom, the outcome of the action is questionable.
Lack of flexibility in curriculum, inability to fend for themselves and thus being bullied by others in the class and not getting adequate attention from the teacher are common issues. All these may result in the child not getting a fair inclusive education. As a result, the number of children with special needs receiving higher education is on the decline.
In India, a majority of children with special needs do not receive any formal education, in spite of the practice of inclusive education in some schools. This is because children with disabilities and learning deficiencies are segregated from mainstream schools and other regular routines and social activities of normal children.
Other contributing factors to this situation are lack of affordability and awareness on the kind of education choices available to children with special needs.
Hence, inclusive education becomes a key reason for integrating a special child with the mainstream. According to Dr. Mithu Alur, founder of the Spastics Society of India and coordinator at the National Resource Centre for Inclusion (NRCI), “Children need to be with other children. Sending them to a school for disabled will not help.” Inclusive schools have to be well-equipped in all aspects to cater and deliver quality education for all children.
This includes having a balanced curriculum that is appropriate for all categories of children, teachers who have the ability to handle the individual needs within the classroom and thereby promote an environment where personal development, social skills and student participation are strongly encouraged.
Another critical aspect of inclusive education for a special needs child is in having the acceptance and friendship of classmates. This kind of support also aids in the progress of special children and helps them gain confidence within the school environment.
Further, parents have a vital role as partners to make inclusive education successful within the classroom.
This is possible when the children with special needs continue to live at home and attend school, just like normal children.
Parents should also be involved with the teachers and administrative staff at the school to coordinate travel arrangements, school activities and learning materials for their special child.
The Heritage School located in Kolkata is well-known for its inclusive education philosophy where in children special needs are combined with the mainstream children to encourage overall improved student learning. The school has created a need-based programme with its educators to focus on its special students to allow them to discover their own skills and work on them to catch up with their peers. Meenakshi Atal, the Vice Principal of the school says, “Participation is key to academic inclusion and we ensure that the participation of the children with special needs in all mainstream activities happens to the best of their abilities.”
The Indian government continues to include children special needs under several of their education initiatives, including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). This is a government programme that aims at improving and providing quality primary education for all children. There are several national and local NGOs that champion the cause of children with disabilities and provide specific resource centres in support of inclusive education.
For instance, the Spastics Society of India has a division that aims at promoting the right of children with cerebral palsy to inclusive education.
There are also private schools in the country such as The Heritage School, Akshar School, Vydehi School of Excellence, Chettinad Srihari Vikasam etc. that offer individualised learning programmes for children with special needs.
In conclusion, children with special needs have a distinctive experience undergoing inclusive education along with normal, non-disabled classmates. There are several barriers for providing education to special children in a regular classroom.
We can overcome these obstacles by creating more awareness on inclusive education, by schools having the resources and the ability to re-structure their curriculum to cater to all types of students, by recruiting teachers who have the skills and proficiency to meet varying demands within the classroom and by having the support of family. If these changes are implemented, it will increase the confidence of a number of special children to aspire for a valuable education like their normal peers.