Manu, 12, has polio. The orphaned boy at a Bangalore school run by the Samarthanam Trust for differently abled children also has a dream — to dance, rid of the walker he has had to use since he can remember.
A successful operation, funded by his school, has given Manu realistic hope that he may dance soon. If an ambitious, unique move by his school is even nearly as successful, he would get to dance with a new bunch of classmates — children without any disability joining his school in a unique experiment.
Unlike mainstream schools that have tried to integrate differently abled children, Samarthanam, which has focused solely on children with special needs, is now building a barrier-free school for all children. Manu and his 233 schoolmates at the current Samarthanam school, in Bangalore’s HSR Layout, will automatically move to the new school.
But Mahantesh GK, the man behind Samarthanam, wants the new school to do away with more than physical barriers – by encouraging students without special needs to also join.
“I want to create a school where they study together, grow together,” Mahantesh says. “Why shouldn’t schools for special needs children reverse integrate?”
Educationists across the world are near unanimous in supporting integrated or inclusive education, though they differ in the terminology they use.
Children with special needs studying alongside students without any physical or learning disability assists both sets of students, research shows.
But the success of inclusive education depends to a large extent on the availability of trained teachers and infrastructure needed to cater to the requirements of special needs children.
The new school is being built just a block away from the current one, and will have residential facilities for 750 students in a five-storey hostel building.
It will have teachers trained in addressing special needs children. The current school has 233 students.
Samarthanam also supports special needs youth beyond school – it sponsored the training for Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda, who just won a silver medal for India at the London Paralympics.
The latest government surveys show that at least 7% of the country’s population either has physical or learning disabilities.
But only a handful of “mainstream” Indian schools that have transitioned to “integrated” schools have earned the confidence of parents of differently abled children.
Many parents pull out their children from these schools, and either send them to schools specially designed for their needs, or, if they can afford it, send them abroad. Samarthanam’s model could present an alternative.