Mothers of disabled children set to take NIOS Board Exam appeal to HRD Minister
A group of women, all moms of children with disabilities set to take the Class 12 NIOS Board Exam this year, have written an Open Letter to Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. They are asking for the exams to be cancelled given the challenges their children face in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
An Open Letter written by a group of mothers to Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal that speaks for many families across India.
In the letter they ask the Centre to cancel the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) Senior Secondary Board Exams scheduled for July/August 2020. The exams were meant to be held in April/May but were postponed following the coronavirus lockdown.
Nearly three million students across India are enrolled in the NIOS system which caters to students with specific economic needs and disabilities.
The letter, written by Bhavna Sabharwal, Mousumi Gogoi, Shaloo Dua, Shalini Verma, Sheena Oberoi, Sudha Tilak and Winni Mahajan, cites several compelling reasons.
Pandemic poses greater threat to disabled children
Given the scale of the infection, the letter says disabled students face severe challenges.
Special needs students are faced with severe challenges in order to take the NIOS board exam. Owing to their disabilities, they will need to sit in close proximity to their scribes (amanuensis) to take the exam. – Open Letter to HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal
The letter goes on to detail these challenges. Students with speech disorders for instance will require scribes to sit very close to listen and understand what is being said to write the exam. “Social distancing is compromised by this and puts both the special students and scribes at risk”, the letter points out.
Letter mentions specific challenges
Then there are many disabled students with severe comorbidity issues who are doubly vulnerable. Sensory issues are another concern, says the letter, pointing to children on the autism spectrum. “This makes it difficult for many of them to wear masks over their faces which increases their anxiety levels, claustrophobic fears and leads to sensory distress. Sitting for three hours, wearing face masks and gloves etc., in an exam centre is stifling and distressing for them to endure”.
Another major challenge is that not many scribes may come forward given the threat of the virus.
The letter asks the exams to be cancelled and disabled students promoted. “They can be promoted on the basis of their Tutor Marked Assignments (TMA) and Practical board Examination marks which were awarded to the students in 2020 for the exams already”.
Parents’ concerns valid, say experts
Concerns that Chitra Vinod, a rehabilitation professional and teacher at Tattwa Centre of Learning, Ernakulam, says the government must consider.
“The parents have come up with many important points”, says Chitra, who teaches children with and without disabilities. “There are sensory issues faced by many children while wearing masks. They are uncomfortable with certain clothing too”. It will also be hard to understand what many children with speech-related impairments are saying through a mask, points out Seema Lal, a special educator. “The problems will be different for different children”.
One way forward, suggests Jaya Balasubramaniam, Principal, Vigyan Valley Learning Centre at Kochi, is for schools to take the call.
“As it is these children are feeling a great deal of frustration over the exams being postponed. We should go ahead with assessing them based on class performance. I think class 10 board exams should be done away with and Class 12 results should be left to the school’s discretion. After all, the school has a good understanding of what the child knows”.
The situation, says Seema, calls for a larger systemic overhaul that is in tune with Universal Design methods.
“We need to look at a system which address every child’s needs. If you come with a solution that works for a child with the greatest number of challenges, it will work for all. We are now finding different solutions for different people. Instead we should look at a solution that works for the most marginalised and go forward”.
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