Why 45% of India’s disabled are still illiterate and thousands dropping out of schools
The motto for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the national educational initiative to help realise universal elementary education policy, goes: “Every child with special needs should be placed in regular schools with the needed support services.” But a look at the ground realities of the country’s disabled population illustrates that it is just another utopian ideal. The government’s initiative may promise free education for all children between the ages of six and 14, but those with special needs form the largest out-of-school group in the country. Two tier-2 towns in Uttar Pradesh exemplify this. A recent Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan study said 3,417 disabled children had no access to education in Agra and 3,400 in Bareilly. Bareilly and Agra are not aberrations to the trend. More than 25 lakh school students in India are identified as Children with Special Needs. But the 2011 census says 45% of India’s disabled population are still illiterate, compared to 26% of all Indians.
The dropout rates for physically challenged students are high. Of persons with disability who are educated, 59% complete Class X, compared to 67% of the general population. In a country that has almost universal primary school enrolment, a 2014 ‘National Survey of Out of School Children’ report put the number of special-needs children between six and 13 years of age who are out of school at 600,000.
Once in school, these children need user-friendly instruction and teaching equipment, apart from special educators who are hard to come by. The apathy towards training as an educator to teach children with special needs appears to be growing. In Agra’s 2,970 primary schools for instance, only 37 special teachers report to work. On top of it, there is a policy dichotomy. Even as the ministry of human resource development propagates an inclusive-education model where special kids study in regular classrooms, the ministry of social justice and empowerment vouches for separate schools for children with special needs. Till the nation begins to be serious about educating the country’s divyang population (disenfranchised but divine) as Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to call them, the accomplishments of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan will continue to have a hollow ring to them.