Kirti Sharma asks one of her students to count numbers.
“15, 16, 17..” Lucky recites, starting from 1 as Sharma looks on. “..18,19,11” he goes wrong at the end. Sharma laughs indulgently and hugs her student.
Lucky, 10, is one of 76 special needs children studying at the Anchal Charitable Trust school for special children in Jhilmil, a colony in east Delhi. Sharma, a teacher at the Trust spends her day working with children like Lucky.
As per 2011 census which recognized 7 disabilities, i.e., that of speech, hearing, seeing, movement, mental illness, mental retardation and multiple disability, 27% of children with disabilities have never been to school. Amongst these children, those with a disability of seeing, hearing, speech, movement, the rate of children who have never attended school to total children with the particular disability is around 20-30%. However, for those with a mental illness, the rate of out of school children is between 40-50% at the pan India level.
During the enrollment, children at Anchal are assessed for their learning capacity and assigned a class that best suits their IQ level at that point.
Thereafter, an average week of schooling includes learning various daily life activities such as brushing teeth, combing hair and buttoning up clothes. For academics, the children learn how to read and write names and addresses as well as understanding the concepts of money and time. Indoor and outdoor activities like music, games and crafts are also an integral part of their education.
Importantly, Anchal helps the children in getting their certificates of disability that make them eligible to receive the monthly pension of Rs.1500 from the state government.
While there are many special needs schools like Anchal that cater to children with different needs, educators say that such schools are the last resort.
“Our mandate is inclusion. We want children to study in regular schools with others. We don’t want them to come to special schools.”
“Our mandate is inclusion”, says Sanjeev Sheel, director at Anchal. “We want children to study in regular schools with others. We don’t want them to come to special schools.”
However, inclusive education for differently abled or special needs children is still a distant dream. “The inclusivity is there but only at the admission level,” says Dr. Shweta Solanki, occupational therapist at Anchal.
Lack of full-time special educators, proper ramps and toilets at the government schools are among a myriad of problems.
“This sector has been neglected for a long time. We are speeding up our efforts to provide as many resources as we can,” says Kamlesh Pandey, Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities at Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
Pandey claims that almost 5.75 lakhs of differently abled have been provided with different equipments such as wheelchair, smart tablets, and canes. Solanki, however, feels that the government should also be mindful of providing cerebral palsy chairs, corner chair and standing tables.
Ashima Das, a researcher in the field of education for special needs children, feels that because academic achievement is linked with IQ levels, children with lower intelligence do have difficulty in coping at schools. The unwillingness of schools in integrating such children makes the matter worse.
In 2008, Das, then a PhD scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, studied the state of inclusive education in private schools of Mumbai. Mentored by Ruth Kattumuri, London School of Economics, she found that schools often fell short of providing for the special needs of the children. However, they found that the parents had a positive attitude towards the inclusion process of their child.
“It was fascinating that parents could now actually aspire for their children to be in regular schools,” says Kattumuri.
Tripta Sharma, another teacher at Anchal, has seen children progress over years. “Patience is the key,” she says.