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Children with disabilities in Delhi schools battle apathy, ignorance & poor infrastructure

In Story of the Week, we turn the spotlight on schools in the national capital. Despite a June 2018 Delhi government order that mandates the creation of inclusive classrooms, children with disabilities in many schools battle indifference and apathy. Names of parents and children have been changed for reasons of privacy.

Dharam* was 11 years old when his parents were told to withdraw him from school. Diagnosed with ADHD when he was six years old, Dharam had been studying in a government-aided private school in New Delhi from class one.

"The class teacher would complain that my son had issues sitting for a long time and was restless. So, we opted for a shadow teacher, but the school withdrew that facility and insisted that we take him home early at 11 AM, recalls Dharam's father, Alok*.

When Dharam was in class 5, the school began insisting his parents withdraw him from school. When they refused, the school reacted by barring the child from entering the classroom. "They would leave him on the school grounds, even in the intense winter. They didn't rusticate him, but they didn't let him enter the class either. This affected his morale a lot, he became irritable, depressed and would even behave violently at times.

Unable to watch their child suffer, Dharam's parents pulled him out of school. Today, he goes to a therapy centre for a few hours every day. "The therapist says his symptoms are quite mild so he does not fit into a special school, but mainstream schools are not open to admitting a child like him.

This is the story across many schools in the national capital, where children with disabilities find themselves sidelined in the mainstream education system.

What the rulebook says

This violates a Delhi government order, dated June 2018, which mandates that all schools funded or recognized by the government and local authorities provide inclusive education to children with disabilities. Some of the key provisions under the order issued by the Directorate of Education are:

  • Every child with a disability be given one-on-one inputs by a special educator every single day.
  • If a school has over 6-7 children with disabilities per special educator, only then should groups of 2-3 children be formed according to the similarity of their needs.
  • Develop Individualized Education Plan for each child which are to be reviewed regularly.
  • Activities to make the school inclusive.
  • Plan and implement co-curricular activities for children with disabilities on a regular basis.
  • Organize weekly interactions with parents of these children and the teachers.

What actually happens

The reality, however, says Shailja Sharma, a lawyer specializing in disability laws and parent to a child with autism, is quite different.

The ratio of children with special needs to the special educator is supposed to be 3:1 but on the ground children are clubbed into a resource room regardless of the nature of disability. There are no learning outcomes and the mindset among teachers is that these children cannot do anything, so why invest so much time and energy on them? The school is supposed to provide whatever is needed for the full development of the child, a workshop was also held by the Delhi government's education directorate in this regard to sensitize the schools and special educators. - Shailja Sharma, Lawyer

As NewzHook found out, Dharam's was not a unique case. Anahita has a seven-year-old son Piyush, who has ADHD and autism, studying in a mainstream school in a Delhi suburb.

"I was faced with questions like 'why are you bothering to educate him' from his class teacher, she says. "I have decided that my son deserves an education and will fight for it if needed. The teacher would constantly complains about how he takes longer than the other kids to write. I even took his therapist to school to demand his rights.

Matters came to a head after Piyush's teacher locked him up naked in the bathroom for soiling his clothes. "I took the matter up with higher authorities and since then the school has backed down. But there is no facility given - no shadow teacher, no teacher student ratio followed and he is clubbed with children who have disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy and learning disorders.

Another parent, Bhavna* says the ratio of special educators to children in her son's school is 1:11. "My seven-year-old has non-verbal autism and he is clubbed with slow learners and children with mental disabilities. I have tried to speak to the principal about dealing with them according to their needs. How can they deal with 11 children with diff disabilities? If such children are dealt with in a specific manner, they can do so well.

On paper, these loopholes are rarely mentioned and the children are shown as integrated.

"When parents ask teachers about the progression towards goals, they are told no improvement, says Sharma. "Obviously there will be none in such circumstances and the parents give up. When the schools are failing them at the primary education level, where is the question of secondary or higher education?'

The solution, believes Rashmi Dhawan, Head of Department, Special Needs, Sanskriti School lies in training mainstream teachers to handle the needs of children with disabilities.

"Because of the Education Directorate's ruling, many schools do have a school counsellor but that's not enough to cater to so many especially since many children get diagnosed only after they are in the school system. It is important for schools to start training their mainstream teachers and inhouse workshops can play an important role. This way teachers can also guide parents on the additional therapies that the child may need which may not be available in school.

Schools must take the initiative and empower teachers with the methodologies and training needed to handle the diverse needs of children, adds Dhawan.

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