A room in Noida’s Step by Step (SBS) school is buzzing with activity. Music blares from the stereo as trainers from the Shiamak Davar dance academy teach students.
When the bell rings, it will be time for lunch and children and teachers will eat together in a community hall.
It’s just another day at school, except that this is a class of children with special needs.
The 2012 amendment to the Right to Education Act allows children with disabilities to seek admission in mainstream schools.
Up until now, many schools had shut their doors on these candidates, citing lack of infrastructure and special educators.
But the RTE has now placed the onus firmly on schools. While it remains to be seen how soon and how well the city’s schools implement the legislation, some are already leading by example.
Springdales School, Pusa Road, has been running a programme for inclusive education with 120 special needs children on its rolls.
Said principal Ameeta Mulla Wattal: “There is now no question of schools saying, ‘I am not ready’. In a country like India, if you keep waiting for systems to be in place, you wait till the cows come home.”
Step by Step has one of the most expansive special education programmes, with a battalion of special educators, speech and language pathologists, counsellors and therapists and other experts.
“Our philosophy is different from the worldview that every child should be incorporated into the mainstream. We have a needs-based approach, where we cater to every child,” said Carol Paul, special education adviser.
Said Rima Arora (name changed), a psychologist whose son attends the school, “My child does not have enough cognitive functioning to be in an ordinary mainstream school. At Step by Step, he’s taught separately but gets to interact with kids his age. He learns social skills, such as waiting his turn in a queue or serving himself during lunch.”
Apart from activities and grooming, schools are also looking at pre-vocational training.
A former student of the Prerna centre at St Thomas’ School, now works as a library assistant in the school.
“Our aim is to empower them, make them independent so that they have a sense of achievement,” said Shanti Devadas, teacher.
Schools underscore the need to involve parents closely in the child’s progress. Said Vijaya Dutt, a teacher at SBS, “We have an open door policy, any parent can walk in. We also have an active Parent Involvement Programme, which acts as a support group as well.”
It also means that teachers have to be available 24/7 to answer queries from harried parents. Teachers say they don’t mind.
These schools have made a start, but the road to inclusion is tough. According to a 2009 World Bank report, children with disabilities are much more likely to remain out of school than any other group.
“The disparity can only be reduced when differently-abled children learn social skills which will help them co-exist in society and also when other children are sensitised. This can only happen when they are a part of mainstream schools,” said Arora.