Saturday, December 2, 2023

Inclusive education

It is indeed true that inclusivity can be, more often than not, an illusion. In India, the inclusive model of education that provides for every child the right to attend a school of his or her choice was introduced in 2009 as part of the Right to Education Act. Also, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 guarantees to every disabled person certain rights and entitlements, including inclusive education. But the reality that disabled persons confront in their everyday lives is far removed from the law’s progressive vision. For years now, experts have recommended assessment of the needs of persons with diverse disabilities to be conducted on an annual or bi-annual basis to devise and, more importantly, revise the institutional plans for inclusion of students with disabilities. This is born of various incidents of callous handling of persons with disabilities and their needs by the authorities and institutions. The argument is that such an assessment could only serve to help equip the authorities and the institutions to carry out specific need-based interventions with regard to disabled persons. Initiatives that aspire for integration, especially of this kind, are laudable but the Government’s noble intentions are yet to address relevant challenges. Some experts have also questioned the competence of trained teachers working in inclusive schools while handling students with disabilities. The Central Government has gone on record saying that it aims to have a majority of the 22.5 lakh children with special needs in the country admitted to regular schools where teachers would be trained to address their needs under the Samagra Shiksha scheme. In the meanwhile, special schools would continue to cater to children with more than 40% disabilities. As of November 6 last year, there were 1987 Government schools in Nagaland. Out of these 1987 schools, 355 had recorded enrolment of children with special needs (CWSN). Zunheboto had the highest number of schools with CWSN enrolment (58 schools), followed by Mokokchung (46) and Mon (40). Till the same period, the total number of CWSN enrolment in the State was 2251. In terms of enrolment, Dimapur registered the highest (392). These are the bare, cold numbers. No less than an authority as the State’s Principal Director of School Education has remarked in public that “though everyone talks about inclusive education, it happens only on paper”. He had further observed that the only occasion when persons with disabilities find mention is during elections when the Election Commission issues directives to collect their data and to construct ramps at the polling stations. This is not merely an institutional shortcoming but cultural too. The disabled community continues to be the most neglected and ignored constituency of Naga society. So in general, the message still is that of reluctance on the part of culture and educational institutions to be more accommodating. Connected to this reluctance is also the attitude towards education of children with disabilities. It is rightly said that education for the disabled community is often regarded in terms of the challenges it pose ~ the need for dedicated infrastructure, trained educators and so on ~ instead of being seen as a means to assure the fundamental right that it is. No doubt, there are significant challenges. But policy interventions ought to go beyond. Disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development and peace and security. It is also central to the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind. The commitment to realising the rights of persons with disabilities is not only a matter of justice; it is an investment in a common future. And as long as the needs of persons with disabilities are not part of regular educational initiatives, inclusive education will remain an illusion.