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Despite India’s attempts at inclusive education, schooling for special needs children has usually been a story of lack - of will, infrastructure and personnel. Schools, both private and government, would avoid admitting children with disability. Since the PWD Act of 1995, and the RTE Act of 2009, there has, however, been an improvement in the record of disability education, certainly in terms of its awareness and future challenges, and seeing it as a matter of right for a large section of young India.
Approximately more than 2 lakh children in Delhi suffer from some disability or the other. Schools that cater to such children usually follow a mixed model of inclusion.
As Anita Makkar, principal, DAV Gurgaon, puts it: “Wherever possible, inclusion does take place, and wherever required, we do take them out and give them special training. For example, an eight year-old can sit with Class I students for an English class, but for other subjects they have to be educated separately,”
Good practices have to start in the classroom and in this, the teacher plays an important role. “We ask students to read in class so that all children can participate,” said Saudamini Tipra, PGT, political science, Salwan Public School, Pusa Road. Ajit Singh, a Class XI visually impaired student, who is going to the US on a youth exchange programme, is, for example a student who has benefitted from his school’s care. “I use laptop and Jaws software, teachers help me whenever in doubt. We have extra schedules, notes and other students help me with dictation,” he said.
Indeed, what special needs children most need in a school environment is a sense of acceptance and support from their peers. That is, ‘help and support’ that comes from the spirit of fellow-feeling, not charity. Schools that integrate such children and do not keep them separate from other children help them better. “We haven’t faced any problem in integration. For example, in one of the classes, there is a hearing-impaired child and the entire class understands how to talk to her,” said Nidhi Sirohi, principal, Kothari International School, Noida.
The daily life challenges of a special needs student goes beyond text-book learning. Springdales, Pusa Road, for example, which has 120 special needs students, has been requesting the MCD for permission to build a lift but to no avail, said principal Ameeta Wattal.
Unlike physical disability, learning disability goes undetected in formal teaching. “Parents and teachers need equal counselling. Sometimes, families don’t accept that their child has a disability,” said Sharmila Raheja, principal, Uttam School for Girls, Ghaziabad.
The interventions by the Delhi High Court and publicity of such interventions by media has sensitised authorities, said advocate Ashok Aggarwal who has fought disability cases in Delhi for years. “A parent of a disabled child has recently won a case against Mother’s International School. The school had denied admission to the child with disability on the ground that he was not covered within the 25% RTE EWS quota,” said the advocate.
What protection do children have against discrimination? So far as the legal provisions are concerned, there is no dearth of laws. However, the question still is when will the authorities wake up to the right to education of children with disabilities, asked Aggarwal.
Parents also have to deal with some schools charging a higher fee for special needs children. Step by Step school has one of the most comprehensive special care infrastructure in Delhi. It has 160 children with special needs and 56 special educators including counsellors.
“The difference in the education fee between mainstream and children with special educational needs is `1,315 per month as tuition fee. There is an addition of `1,800 per month for therapies – speech, occupational and physiotherapy. We charge higher fees. But we provide good facilities to these children,” said Reena Gupta, the educational therapist.