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.
In the year 2015, India adopted the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The goal 4 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) reflects “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030. NEP 2020 is in line with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016. The RPWD Act 2016 defines inclusive education as a “system of education wherein students with and without disabilities learn together and the system of teaching and learning is suitably adapted to meet the learning needs of different types of students with disabilities” The act also increased the 3% reservation to 5% for the people with benchmark disabilities in all government institution for higher education. Any person with at least 40% of the listed 21 disabilities in the RPWD Act 2016 is known as the person with benchmark disability. The act also emphasized on the barrier free access to education as a non-discriminatory measure.
The investigator had the opportunity to visit hundreds of schools as a BEd Coordinator for almost two decades and closely observe what is actually happening with children with special needs in inclusive classrooms. This article is the reflections of those experiences which have been penned down by the author in his reflective diary.
This longitudinal study conducted over a particular span of time is focused on children with special needs who are enrolled in inclusive schools and are being educated alongside their non-disabled peers. This study assumes importance because the literature on inclusive education is scant.
This is a qualitative study based on in-depth interviews of children with special needs in inclusive schools in Kashmir valley. The investigator has used the case study methodology as it allows an intensive study within its real-life context of children with disabilities.
It provides an in- depth and systematic way of observing at events and helps in gaining a sharpened understanding of causality and provides a solid base for extensive exploration in future research.
A total of ten in-depth interviews were conducted from 10 inclusive schools in Kashmir. The interviews were audio-taped and later transcribed for analysis.
Many investigators have subscribed to audio-taping of interviews in order to avoid bias. Children often lost interest if the investigator resorted to note-taking. The focused interviews were conducted with the help of an interview schedule.
The questions intended to gain an understanding of how these students viewed their physical, social and psychological self, their abilities, class placement, the legitimacy of inclusive education, and the extent to which they regarded themselves as part of the wide school and community culture and felt accepted by their classmates, friends and teachers.
Those inclusive schools which had at least four children with special needs on roll were selected for this study. The rationale behind this inclusion criterion was that it would enable us to get at least one student with different types of disability for conducting interview.
The ten normal peers were identified by the children themselves as their ‘good friends’ so the investigator explored their attitudes towards their peers with disability. The data obtained from multiple sources was combined to prepare case studies.
Cross-case comparisons resulted in deriving common themes. Atlas-ti (qualitative data analysis software) was used for analysis and interpretation of the data. There were several facilitative factors which helped the child with special needs to continue in a regular school.
The school has the primary duty for helping children with special needs learn alongside their typically developing peers. An inclusive school must enable accommodative educational structures, flexible systems and procedures to meet the needs of all children, particularly those who face the greatest barriers to achieving their right to education.
All the ten inclusive schools had a resource room for students with special needs with at least one resource teacher. The resource rooms of the schools were ill equipped and very few had all the needed teaching aids. Resource teachers are mainly accountable to provide the extra support for students with special needs in inclusive schools.
The resource teacher handles the job of remedial teaching, conducts counseling sessions, work together with the regular teachers to monitor their progress in class, and facilitates the child during co-curricular activities. Their promising attitude toward the children was evident during personal conversation with the investigator. I shall share few case studies.
Maria’s mother said: “The resource teacher takes lot of pains with Maria and keeps me informed of her progress. She is trying very hard for her to pick up the language”. Alia’s mother said: “Alia has to attend remedial classes on a regular basis. She is very friendly with the resource teacher. The resource teacher ensures that Alia completes her class work on time and prepares her for the exams.” Zarka’s mother said: “The determination of helping Zarka to cope in the regular school has brought in additional responsibilities for me.
It is my routine to visit Zarka’s school during ‘zero hours’ or lunch time or at the end of the day to find out how the day has been for her. If there are any class notes which need to be photocopied, or assignments to be submitted next day or any assessments coming up, I have to keep track of everything.”
Rabia who has Spina Bifida disability said: “My mother comes to school every day during lunch break. She has to help me with the catheter. She never complains about anything. She cannot go anywhere because of me. She always tells me that she loves me and I am never going to be a burden.”
There could be many obstacles for educating children with disabilities in regular classrooms. These barriers could emanate from scarcity of resources, negative attitudes of teachers, non-disabled peers and their parents.
Acceptance by normal counterparts provides a much greater challenge for children with special needs. Children with special needs are often an easy target for being teased and bullied by their non-disabled peers as reported by children interviewed in this study. An eleven year old Javaid having Spina Bifida disability reported: “I faced an embarrassing moment when a friend discovered that I use a diaper.
The friend threatened me of disclosing this to everyone in the class. Initially I was horrified but later I asked him what he would have done if he were in my place. He then assured me that he would not disclose this to anyone.
But now I feel that he has betrayed my trust and told this fact to many children in the class because some of the classmates look at me with a sarcastic expression” Suhail a ten year old slow learner reported “ I do not love children in my class because many of them say that I am ‘stupid’ and that my brain does not work.”
Rakib a thirteen year old having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) reported “They (classmates) know that I am short tempered because of my disability, however, they tease me to such an extent that I get aggressive. Sometimes they tell me, that Rashid (my classmate) has made my cartoon in his notebook for provoking me so that I get scolded by the teacher”. Another strong barrier which the children perceived was the negative attitude of regular teachers.
Several studies using both quantitative and qualitative studies have examined teachers’ beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions play an instrumental role for psychological inclusion in the classroom. There were two general attitudes which surfaced from our interviews as being challenges for children with disabilities in inclusive schools.
Firstly, regular teachers considered children with special needs as the responsibility of the resource teachers. Secondly, they felt children with special needs to be a ‘disturbance’ to the class and as causing distractions which delayed course completion. Therefore, they choose to ignore their presence and concentrate on execution of their lesson plans meant exclusively for normal children.
A class teacher of Rahim having Aspergers Syndrome reported, “I have no personal problem with Rahim but it is difficult to have him in the class. For how long, could one ignore or bear his distractive behavior. Sometimes, he taps his pencil on the table continuously. Some other time he is reading a different book in class.
Sometimes he even starts to talk to himself. The other children in the class get distracted and a lot of time is wasted” It was observed that most inclusive schools only enroll special children with mild disabilities. The schools also assess the parental support during the time of admitting child with special needs.
They give preference when parents are willing to take on the extra responsibility for their child in terms of sharing the workload with the resource teachers. Children with disabilities were found to be conscious of their physical self and develop poor self-image. Rabia who has Spina Bifida disability said, “I am a girl having a disability. I look very different from everyone; I use long shoes and cannot walk and roam around in the school. I use a wheelchair.
I am not able to run and play likes other kids in school, I am not so active. I usually read books during games period because I cannot do much. All my friends go down and play during lunch break. No one likes to be my friend because I cannot perform well in studies or sports.
They do not call me to their home for birthday parties and other events. I offer a hand of friendship but it is unreciprocated”. Showkat who is a slow learner reported “I have a squint eye, so I do not look like other children. I am not as smart as them”.
In most cases children with special needs perceived problems for social interactions. They expressed that their ‘disability’ is a cause for social isolation. They desired to have more friends and be involved in normal activities with their friends. However, they expressed dissatisfaction in their relationships with their non-disabled peers.
The interviews with regular teachers revealed that the teachers did not have appropriate exposure in dealing with children with special needs during their pre-service training and therefore, lacked appropriate attitude and sensitivity. The teacher training courses across India are varied and approach inclusive education from the ‘deficit perspective’.
Apart from an optional paper on ‘children with special needs’ there are no formal inputs on inclusive education which could prepare the teachers to handle diversity in the classrooms. The standard Bachelor in Education programme has a course on educating children with special needs in India.
However, teachers when confronted with the practical challenge of teaching in inclusive classes lacked the skills to deal with the situation and mostly ignored children with special needs as being the responsibility of the resource teachers alone.
The teachers training curriculum could include a special module to train on inclusive education. This module might also provide an extensive internship period in inclusive schools. The Directorate of Distance education University of Kashmir in collaboration with home science department can launch Foundation Course in Disability Studies and offer it in hybrid mode.
Peers could be sensitised by the regular and resource teachers through group sessions where they learn about disability and empathy. NEP 2020 talks about reform of teacher education programmes. Sensitisation, early intervention, support and special pedagogy to teach children with disability, to be an integral part of teacher education programmes (NEP 2020, Part-I, Section 6.14).
A constant effort by the school personnel to include the child with special needs in normal activities of the school could certainly bring about a change in behavior of non-disabled peers towards their classmates with disability.
The main recommendations included recruitment of resource teachers, special educators in proportion to the numbers and needs of the enrolled children with special needs in a school; pre-service and regular in-service training of regular teachers on issues related to managing inclusive classrooms, peer sensitization; and introducing relevant alternative activities for children with special needs.
Amendment in examination statues where students with special needs will have some relaxation in minimum pass percentage( 36% for physically challenged category and 40% for general category) particularly at college and university level. Physically Challenged students should have an option to take classes or sessionals in online mode where offline classes are mandatory for all.
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.
Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir
(Note: The names in this article may be considered as changed)