There are thousands of children in the country who are either borderline or mildly autistic and they are the ones who can reap maximum benefit from early intervention and inclusive education. Unfortunately, it is rare to find such basic facilities. Though there’s no authentic data, of about 10-12% disabled children, 70% are in the mild-borderline categories. Many of them attend mainstream schools but find it difficult to understand their teachers, cope with their studies or make friends. To make matters worse, they are bullied and teased by their peers and scolded by teachers and ultimately 'forced' to leave the schools. Except a few private schools, most schools do not even have the provision for a special educator.
Though the concept of inclusive education is not new in the country, no efforts have been made to implement it effectively. The report of the Sergeant Commission on Post-War Education Development in India (1944) and the DS Kothari Commission (1964) mooted the idea of inclusive education. Subsequently, the National Education Policy (1986), the Programme of Action (1992), the People with Disability Act, 1995, and recently the Right to Education Act, 2010, stressed upon the need for inclusive education and rights of disabled students to be taught in an environment that is made suitable to their needs.
The Sarva Siksha Abhiyan has enforced a 'zero-rejection policy' in admission of such children in mainstream schools and even has the provision of a grant of Rs. 1,200 per child per annum. The Central Board of Secondary Education has also made it clear that no disabled child should be denied admission in mainstream schools and underlines the provision for a special educator in each school with individualised evaluation programmes with specific goals to be set up for each child. It also advocates taking stringent action to the extent of disaffiliation if schools fail to provide attention to children with special needs or deny them admission. Besides, India has also ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) on the issue of providing inclusive education in its education plan.
We have rules, policies, Acts and constitutional amendments on inclusive education in place but their implementation is patchy. Besides the ministry of human resource development that handles the education sector and the ministry of social welfare that looks after the needs of disabled persons and gives grants to NGOs running special schools, there is no single agency to monitor the implementation and progress of government policies in schools. Unfortunately, many government and central schools do not have special educators.
There is an urgent need for a single agency having the responsibility of registration, admission and monitoring of the facilities and the progress of children with special needs in neighbourhood schools. It should have links with the centres engaged in the identification and assessment of such children and also maintain a registry. Until we have an effective implementation programme, children with special needs will continue to live in the darkness of academic and social deprivation.
Arun Kumar Aggarwal works in the Department of Paediatrics, DDU Hospital and also looks after the neuro-developmental clinic. The views expressed by the author are personal.