Delhi government workshop for schools on inclusive education practices gets good response
In a major step towards ensuring schools in Delhi understand how inclusive education, as mandated under the RPWD Act 2016 is actually put into practice, the Directorate of Education, Government of Delhi held an orientation for principals of private aided and unaided schools in the national Capital.
This is the first time that any state has held such an exercise since the Act came into effect. The aim was to ensure that schools understand the fundamental changes they need to bring in to make sure that inclusive education does not remain a policy level document.
The initiative for this novel exercise was taken by T D Dhariyal, State Commissioner for People with Disabilities, Government of Delhi. The move was based on his observations as well as issues raised by parents relating to special education teachers, appropriate teaching material and accessible environment, to name a few.
There were divergent issues raised by schools, parents and experts. School principals felt putting these inclusive practices into place would not be practical, that it would affect the overall results, while special educators felt otherwise. So, it was important to do this. Our purpose is to tell schools that it is obligatory on their part to admit children with disabilities, give them facilities and that this is as much the schools' responsibility as it is that of the government's. - T D Dhariyal, State Commissioner for People with Disabilities, Government of Delhi
Of the 1,350 registered schools in Delhi that were called, 1,232 were present. The specific objectives were:
- To inform them about provisions in various laws and rules on the rights of children with disabilities to inclusive and quality education on equal basis with others.
- Discuss apprehensions of the authorities in including children with disabilities in mainstream schools/classes.
- Share innovative approaches to effective inclusion and learn from experiences of practitioners.
- Discuss potentials of inclusive approaches to improve the quality of education and remove barriers to learning.
- Develop recommendations on ways to promote inclusiveness in classrooms.
"Many principals objected saying things like 'how can we do this,' 'how can we cater to a certain disability,' etc.," says Dhariwal. "I told them that even the government does not have the discretion to raise any questions. The rule says every child."
The reactions from schools underline how despite various policies and laws that promote mainstreaming of students with disabilities, effective inclusion is not a regular feature. Clearly, the number of schools adopting best practices is rather low. The main reason being they do not have the system in place to address the various needs.
By holding such an orientation, the message has gone out that schools are mandated to provide accessible education, with penalties to be paid for failing to do so.
"No other state has done this," points out Shailja Sharma, a lawyer with vast experience in disability laws, who spoke at the orientation. "States took their own time to frame the rules and that gave them a pretext to say the law does not apply. We have been after them since the RPWD Act came into effect that schools must be informed."
At the workshop, Sharma dwelt on the legal provisions and implications on private schools and their duties, regardless of whether they are aided or unaided. "There are certain guidelines set down regarding monitoring the growth of the child, one-on-one sessions, the technology that is to be given to the child. We discussed reasonable accommodations, about discrimination under the law, things like not giving the child access to the same patch of sunlight as the other kids or not enabling them to be a part of what other kids are doing."
Also present were inclusive education experts who shared creative, unique ways to promote inclusion in the classroom, like Professor Anupam Ahuja, Department of Education of Groups with Special Needs at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
Ahuja emphasized on the need to improve reading skills of children through innovative materials like Barkhaa - A Reading Series for All, which has print and digital versions for children with varying needs. "There is a need to focus on all children and all really means all. They need to study together and live together. In tune with the Right to Education Act and RPWD Act we have worked at making reading material accessible. We have tried to create an understanding of what is accessible reading material for them."
The exercise was a strong statement to the schools that the law is here to stay and that the onus is on them to make sure it was implemented.
"It was an awesome orientation," says Amresh Chandra Headmaster, Special Wing, Air Force Golden Jubilee Institute, one of the schools at the workshop. "The presence of other professionals in the disability helped to clarify many details about the RPWD Act. Not all the issues that schools face have been resolved, like the norms for writers for class 10 students are not clear, but we have to make the effort."
These are baby steps, says Dhariyal. "Change will not happen overnight," he points out. We will hold workshops like these on a regular basis for government schools and parents as well in the coming months. It is important to keep the dialogues flowing for change to happen."