Ensuring inclusive education

Disability inclusion is an essential condition for upholding human rights, ensuring sustainable development, and forging peace and security
"Even the competence of B.Ed. trained teachers working in these inclusive schools in handling these differently challenged students has been found yielding. "
"Even the competence of B.Ed. trained teachers working in these inclusive schools in handling these differently challenged students has been found yielding. "Conor Ashleigh/ Flickr [Creative Commons]

During last so many years I have been constantly visiting many schools, across the valley, and interacting with teachers and the differently challenged students. Even the competence of B.Ed. trained teachers working in these inclusive schools in handling these differently challenged students has been found yielding.

As people are approaching Distance Education Kashmir University, asking if something for the learners could be done especially for those who are interested in teaching the children with special needs in the general education as well as in the inclusive setup under one roof to enable them to compete with their normal counterparts.

So the need of the hour is that every teacher should undergo foundation course on educating children with disabilities as envisaged by new National Education Policy 2020. 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 realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is not only a matter of justice; it is an investment in a common future. Many obstacles prevent children and young people with disabilities from attending a mainstream school. Prejudices and social attitudes lead to under-declaring the number of children with disabilities.

Certain families, fearing stigmatization, do not send their children to school. Due to the hidden nature of certain learning difficulties, the total population of these children is largely unknown. Identifying these children at school is rare. Recognizing disabilities may be limited to observable disabilities and not necessarily those that affect the child’s ability to learn. Obsolete and inadequate data complicate effective educational planning and hinder decision-making and resource allocation. In addition, countries use different measurements, methods and definitions to classify disabilities thus affecting their ability to compare data. In many countries, teachers do not have the confidence or the necessary skills to deliver inclusive education. Inclusive education is only a small component of the training received by teachers and is not always assessed. Poorly adapted infrastructures and a lack of accessible learning materials are significant obstacles. This is particularly true in rural areas where increased levels of poverty, poor services, and recurrent infrastructure failings exacerbate these existing problems for children with disabilities.

School curricula that solely rely on passive learning methods, such as drilling, dictation, and copying from the blackboard, further limit access to quality education for children with disabilities. Whether it concerns building, reducing class sizes or teacher training, financial and human resources are required. Funds earmarked for special needs are often insufficient. Where funding is available, it is primarily intended for schools and special units, rather than being used for the needs of students enrolled in mainstream schools and removing existing barriers. There are few data on the learning outcomes of students with disabilities. Examinations and tests rarely make accommodations for these students putting them at a disadvantage. I shall share a case study, a visually impaired student was enrolled for BEd programme, she appeared in examination and got 29 marks out of 80 in of the theory papers. She failed by 3 marks as minimum marks bar was 32. Same yardstick is applicable for a normal student. It took her 4 years to pass that paper in mercy chance. Most international performance tests exclude students with disabilities, which, in turn, reinforce low expectations. Inclusive education requires a systemic examination of education systems and school cultures. Promoting social justice and inclusive education requires drawing up, implementing and assessing plans and policies that favor inclusive education for all. Every country needs to formulate its own set of solutions that reach down to the level of individual schools.

The first step to including children with disabilities in mainstream schools is the provision of adapted school facilities e.g. ramps, toilets, special equipment, and apparatus, as well as making appropriate teaching and learning materials available. To encourage the enrolment of girls with disabilities, special measures could comprise grants or allowances. Girls with disabilities experience greater exclusion and injustices as a result of their disability and gender. They are less likely to go to school and are often considered a burden on the family because they are seen as a non-productive member of society. Providing these girls with an education that meets their needs can play a fundamental role in addressing the root causes of the discrimination they face. Jamila (name changed) , from Kulgam was born with one arm. With support from her family she was able to stay in school. Now she teaches English to younger children in her community and hopes to go to university. Khalida from Kupwara, was born with a condition that meant she was unable to walk. Local NGO supported her to get the surgery and rehabilitation she needed to make a recovery and go to school. When Khalida was first brought to school, she faced unease, but the compassionate approach made her stay comfortable.

Inclusive education requires creating partnerships with local stakeholders i.e. parents and community. Partnerships which capitalize on local knowledge and resources have proven to be effective. One recommendation is to give particular support to parents to raise their awareness of the importance of inclusive education and to integrate them into the educational community, for example by participating in school activities. The ability of teachers to provide quality education to students with disabilities depends on their training and qualifications. However, teachers often struggle due to already overcrowded classes. Offering upstream pre-service training for future teachers, investing in in-service teacher training, comprising practical stages and a mentoring system are approaches that have proved their effectiveness. However, it is important to train specialized teachers as it is not possible to train all mainstream teachers to be sufficiently fluent in Braille, national sign language, and augmentative and alternative communication modes.

The Global Partnership for Education has also highlighted the importance of training teachers to identify disabilities. Although data are rare, there are tools which can be used to monitor the participation and learning of students with disabilities. Data from household surveys are used to monitor school attendance and success rates for children, as well as to examine factors linked to non-attendance; Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) collect administrative data about school attendance, student behaviour, and progress. However, qualitative data are also needed to shed light on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the lives of students, teachers, and parents. Equally important is the collection of data on the school environment, such as the physical accessibility of schools, information on policies and legislation, teaching materials, teacher training and the availability of support specialists in schools. According to UNESCO “ICTs can be a valuable tool for learners with disabilities who are vulnerable to the digital divide and exclusion from educational opportunities”. It is important to find ways to meet the needs of the most marginalized without additional funding. Approaches, such as analyzing data from household surveys, suggest that the returns on investing in education for children with disabilities are high and similar to those for people without disabilities.

Therefore, investing in the education of children with disabilities is both smart and profitable. UNESCO recommends setting up or strengthening financial monitoring systems, as well as creating partnerships between governments and donors. Finally, the comparison between the cost of specialized institutions and inclusive institutions reveals that the inclusive system is more efficient. The type of disability (autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, language, hearing, etc.) influences the learning method. Inclusive pedagogy requires a shift in the educational culture within teaching and support practices i.e. moving away from ‘one-size-fits-all’ education towards a tailored approach to increase the capacity of the system to meet the diverse needs of learners without the need to categorize or label them. We move away from the idea of inclusion as a specialized response to certain learners, to allow them to access or participate in what is offered to most students. I urge all stakeholders to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, increase accessibility, and dismantle legal, social, economic and other barriers with the active involvement of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.

Showkat Rashid Wani is Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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