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Parents, special educators group files RTI into status of inclusive education in Kerala

Over two years after the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 came into force, inclusive school education remains a distant reality. A number of provisions in the Act specify how children with disabilities must be included in mainstream schooling, yet they continue to face exclusion. Story of the Week highlights efforts by a group of parents and educators in Kerala to challenge this.

When Vinu Vinitha Dev moved back to India from Dubai, she wanted to enrol her son, who has autism, in a mainstream school. He was happy in a mainstream set up in Dubai and Vinu wanted to continue with the same in Ernakulam, Kerala.

"After applying to several schools, my son got admission at a CBSE school and was assigned a caretaker to whom I paid Rs 10,000 a month as per the school's instructions, says Vinu. After a few months she realised the caretaker was not handling him well. "Any time my son had a slight issue, she would take him outside the classroom and keep him there for hours. I tried for a year but there was no outcome - academic or social.

Vinu then enrolled her son in another regular school. Being a trained teacher, she asked to be his shadow teacher and the school agreed. Some parents, however, objected to her presence. "Some of the teachers also said that having a child with autism in the classroom was disturbing and I was forced to pull him out. Her son, now 10, studies in a special school.

It is countless accounts like these from parents across the state that has prompted TogetherWeCan (TWC), a well-known support group in Kerala to file an RTI on the state of inclusive education in the state. Astonishingly, for a state which is commended for being progressive on many fronts, Kerala is yet to frame rules under the RPWD Act 2016.

Our RTI wants to learn more about status of inclusive education in the state of Kerala - how many children in each school, the number of special educators/psychologists. The fact that we continue to have special schools is proof enough that Inclusion is not happening. - Seema Lal, Co-founder, TogetherWeCan

From classroom facilities to special educators to transport, the RPWD Act 2016 has detailed provisions when it comes to the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The Act says that children must also be included in decisions relating to sitting arrangements, the designing and implementation of Individualized Educational Programmes etc.

Key provisions

Section 16, Chapter 3 says all recognised educational institutions, including private schools, must:

  • Admit children with disabilities without discrimination.
  • Offer facilities for sports and recreation
  • Make buildings, campuses and various facilities accessible.
  • Provide support to boost social and academic development
  • Ensure appropriate languages, modes, and communication means.
  • Provide for early identification and intervention for children with specific learning disabilities.
  • Monitor participation and progress levels.

The reality is that schools are resistant to meeting even the basic minimum. "First, they don't even get an entry, points out Seema, who is also leading the campaign demanding better monitoring of therapy centres for children with disabilities in Kerala.

"Admissions are denied saying 'we are not equipped' or 'we don't cater to 'such' children or 'we don't have seats', she says, citing specific complaints from parents. "If at all they manage an entry, the children are sent to a different room/space/building and education happens separately, which again defeats the purpose of inclusion.

Preetha Anoop Menon, a parent backing the RTI, faced this resistance. "When my son Shiva was all set for schooling, I applied to a CBSE school near our house. At the interview I was told they don't admit special children as they don't have trained staff for special needs children,

Preetha then enrolled Shiva, who has ADHD, in a school which claimed to offer an inclusive set-up. Here, he was turned away on the first day. "They said they don't have resources and trained staff to meet his needs. I approached another school that claims to specifically reach out to kids with ADHD and here too they said no.

After much difficulty, Shiva joined a government school where he was bullied and isolated. He was even locked into a room. Shiva, now 11 years old, studies in a special school in Cochin.

"My point is that every school should admit at least two children with disabilities in every class and must be equipped with resources and trained staff for special needs children, says Preetha.

Kerala schools are hardly the exception in practicing such blatant and widespread exclusion. This is the story across India, including at the national capital, as an earlier report by NewzHook from Delhi revealed.

The problem, says Seema, lies in the larger mindset, which is yet to change. "We all still function with the mindset that inclusion is for the benefit of 'some children', but actually it benefits all of us as a society. Until that changes, this exclusion and discrimination will continue to be the larger story in schools across India.

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

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