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Let education not be special

Educators and activists are mooting abolishing the concept of special schools and making the differently-abled part of mainstream education, Pankti Mehta reports.

mumbai Updated: Sep 21, 2012 01:40 IST
Pankti Mehta
Pankti Mehta
Hindustan Times

Yazd Contractor, 16, is a Class 10 student at The Cathedral & John Connon School in Fort. He is the goalkeeper of the school football team and plays bass guitar in the school orchestra.

It’s hard to tell that Yazd, like his older sister, suffers from dyslexia and dyscalculia. But they don’t go to schools for differently-abled or special schools.

"Sending my children to a regular school has made all the difference," says Pearl Contractor, Yazd’s mother. "While my children’s learning speed is impaired, they have high IQs, like a lot of other dyslexic children. If I had put them in special schools, they would have gotten bored." At Cathedral, Yazd studies math and English literature at their learning resource centre during school hours, with a small group of other differently-abled children, and the rest of the subjects with the rest of the class." we really need special schools?

As a concept, activists say that special schools are a leftover product of the British Raj. "This is a flawed concept," says Mithu Alur, founder chairperson of ADAPT (formerly known as the Spastics Society of India) and chair of the task force under the HRD ministry to monitor whether government schemes are in line with the Right To Education (RTE) Act for differently-abled people. "Without meaning to, special schools end up excluding the children from society. Why should a child be treated differently just because a child needs to write with the help of a software instead of a pen?"

ADAPT, which runs centres for the learning disabled, has decided to gradually dismantle the centres and place its students in regular schools from a younger age. According to Alur and other experts, special schools are “too nurturing” and therefore don’t prepare them for the real world.

“My main rationale to put my blind son into a regular school was that there are no special colleges or universities for the disabled in Mumbai,” says Radhika Shah (name changed), whose nine-year-old son is the first vision-impaired student at Beacon High School in Khar. “My child is an equal performer, and is expected to go swimming, learn karate and dance with the other kids. This gives him confidence.”

Practising inclusion
While over a hundred Mumbai’s schools have embraced the concept of inclusion successfully, experts say there is still a long way to go before we can do away with special schools. In most developed countries, especially in Europe, inclusion is the practised format.

"In the Indian context, with such large class sizes, it is currently impossible to imagine one teacher handling a whole class and being able to give enough special attention to a differently-abled child," said Meera Isaacs, principal, Cathedral and John Connon School. "We will need many more special educators and many more schools before we, as a city, can completely embrace this concept." integration first

"Before educational integration, a sort of social integration needs to come in where families are no longer embarrassed of the inconvenience these children may cause them in social situations," said Sheela Sinha, director of education, Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Blind. Divya Taparia, a cerebral palsy patient, went to Manav Mandir School at Napean Sea Road and has a double major in psychology and sociology, and is now working as a counsellor in a hospital. "This exposure to the real world from the beginning really helped build my confidence," said Taparia.

First Published: Sep 21, 2012 00:51 IST