Delhi students with special needs have to make do with ill-equipped schools, teachers
Schools in Delhi are ill-equipped to handle children with special needs. They lack facilities, such as ramps and tactile pathways. Ignorance also remains a hurdle in creating inclusive classrooms for such special children.Updated: Dec 11, 2017 13:57 IST
Since Ganesh was two, his father Sunil Khandelwal could tell that his son was “different”. Now 13, Ganesh was constantly hyperactive, and Sunil says he consulted a long list of doctors for treatment, including ones at the All India Institute of Medical Science.
Ganesh was diagnosed to be severely intellectually impaired when he was five.
“More than treatment, I had to struggle in finding an appropriate school for him. I was not financially well off, so I approached all the government and municipal corporation schools in our neighbourhood. But Ganesh was refused admission everywhere because they had no special educators,” said Khandelwal, who runs a small hardware shop in Sultanpur and is a Class 10 graduate himself.
While the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, allows children with special needs or those differently abled to pursue mainstream education, with 25% of seats in public schools reserved for students coming from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups or children with special needs, and the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016 reinforced their right to a dignified life, many of these children remain without any formal education.
The shortfall of special educators in schools who can cater to their needs, the limitations of infrastructural support, the stigma and the lack of general awareness are the primary reasons for differently abled children struggling to get quality education. Meanwhile, progress has also been stalled by doubts about whether students with special needs can be integrated into mainstream classrooms.
For two consecutive years, Khandelwal says he approached everyone who he thought could help. “I wrote to the education department (South Delhi Municipal Corporation), the MLA of my area and several NGOs for appointment of a special educator,” he said.
His efforts paid off in 2014, when Praval Yadav was appointed as a special educator at the neighbouring SDMC school. Soon, as the news of Yadav’s appointment spread through word-of-mouth, 14 other differently abled kids took admission in the school.
Lack of special educators
Virender Sharma, a 17-year-old Class 12 humanities student at the Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya, liked to tell anyone who listens about how he won the Delhi government’s excellence award for his CGPA of 8.4 when he was in Class 10.
“I got ₹5,000, a medal and a certificate. I was one of the toppers of my school” he tells HT.
His achievement holds special meaning because he is one of the 46 visually impaired children in the school studying in Classes 9 to 12. At his school, there are three special educators who provide him additional support like tactile maps for his geography lessons. These specially trained instructors also help sensitise, empower and train other teachers in his school about their needs.
However, not many schools in Delhi have full-time special educators to cater to children like Virender, who may have special needs ranging from intellectual, hearing, visual and other impairments.
Going by the records from the education department, Delhi government and Municipal Corporations, only 536 full-time regular appointments have been made to the 2,691 sanctioned posts for special educators so far.
Taking cognisance of the issue, an NGO, Akhil Dilli Prathmik Shikshak Sangh, filed a complaint in September with the court of state commissioner for persons with disabilities and requested to provide at least one special educator in each school on a contract basis.
The three municipal corporations — North, South and East — have 1,661 schools, and for those schools, 102 special educators are appointed on permanent basis.
“We are aware of the crisis, but we are unable to do anything. For filling 1,540 vacancies of special educators (in primary schools), requisition has been sent to the Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board (DSSSB) and same has been notified in August 2017. The DSSSB is yet to conduct written examination for the same,” said an official from South Delhi Municipal Corporation.
Meanwhile, the situation wasn’t any better in Delhi government schools. As of 2017, there were 1,024 special educator posts, so that each government school would have at least one. Among those, only 767 posts are currently filled, with 434 regular teachers and 333 guest teachers.
“We have a panel of approximately 500 guest teachers waiting to help with the rest of the posts, which is pending because of the high court stay (on hiring new guest teachers). Once that is resolved, we should have no problem,” said Saumya Gupta, the director of education.
Even a single special educator in every school can help in creating more inclusive classrooms, experts said.
“It is unrealistic to expect a special educator for every class. In our school there are three special educators and they are helping other regular teachers to deal with children who have special needs,” said Annie Koshi, principal of St Mary’s School, Safdarjung Enclave, while adding that parents’ sensitisation and support is necessary for a higher success rate.
Even with special educators in his school, Virender finds it difficult to cope in classes due to lack of awareness. “Some teachers write on the board. I can’t see that. So I record lectures, as I can’t take notes. I usually have to ask the special educators in the resource room to help me out later,” he said.
In Delhi government schools, around 500-600 special educators have been given multi-disciplinary training so that they can help kids beyond their own speciality, while all teachers are being trained in inclusive education.
“I think the sensitivity towards these kids comes with experience. I encourage students to do their homework in Braille and then read it out to the class,” said MT Kom, a Class 12 English teacher at Virender’s school.
Extending the facilities provided for such children is another issue that is repeatedly raised by the teachers.
Virender said that despite there being 46 students in his school who are visually impaired, there are no tactile paths in his school.
“Stairways are not a problem. The issue is when we enter the school there is a tree on the right side. We usually walk holding hands, but we sometimes bump into it. There is also construction work on in the school, because of which there are some small potholes and pits. A tactile path would be of great help,” he said.
In MCD schools, though there is provision for ramps and washrooms for differently abled kids, tactile paths are still not there. “Even ramps are also not made as per international standards. Absence of nursery aayas also demoralises parents to sent their kids,” said a MCD teacher.
Lack of awareness
There are instances where parents didn’t get child’s assessment done and plan their lives going by general perceptions.
“For example — a child with hearing impairment may not necessarily have a speech disorder. Similarly, if a child is physically challenged and it doesn’t have to mean he would be a slow learner. It is important to communicate with each child, understand their requirement and accordingly provide them support,” said Uma Tuli, founder of Amarjyoti Foundation and former chief commissioner for persons with disability. “There are chances that you will end up finding some areas where kids can do extremely well such as sports, music and it can be promoted in right direction.”
Vimal Kumar, a student at the Delhi government school, is one of the finest chess players of his school and represented the special students of Delhi at the national level the previous academic year, despite having lost sight in both eyes after an accident when he was in Class 7.
Debate on ‘inclusive education’
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court suggested that students suffering from blindness, deafness, autism or other such disorders may need not just special educators, but special schools.
However, 21-year-old Vimal, a Class 9 student at Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya, was staunchly against this.
“We need to remove all special schools and integrate students with different needs with the rest of the world. You can’t spend your life separate from the world. We can have separate classes to learn skills like Braille or sign language, but after those classes, they must be brought in to regular classrooms,” he said.
Pooja Raju, 16, lives in a home shelter at Kashmere Gate and studies in Class 5 at Amarjyoti Foundation. Last year, she won four medals in athletics at the Special Olympics.
“Even after being severely intellectually challenged, she could do so well because of inclusive education. We may not emphasise for combined education in cases where a child is suffering from multiple disabilities, but we ensure that they share common playing areas and rooms for interactive activities,” said Tuli.