Education January 9, 2021
National Education Policy 2020 : Disability perpectives
India adopted a new Education Policy in the year 2020. While it is legitimate to criticise the Government why they had to adopt this policy during a raging pandemic when consultations with various stakeholders are difficult, we need to see how it will affect education of disabled people. We have to remember that India adopted it’s first Education Policy in 1968. The second one was adopted in 1986. None of this mentioned disability at all. So, when in 2020, India adopted a new education policy and recognised and included disability, many from the sector became elated. The fact that Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was mentioned in this policy was appreciated by many disability activists and scholars.
However, the thrust of National Education Policy adopted in 2020 is privatisation. Disabled people do not belong to a separate society but are part of the larger population within this country. So every law enacted or policy implemented affects them also. We cannot read disability within NEP 2020 in a vacuum – we need to understand the existing socio-political background and read between the lines to understand the nuances of same.
If we look at history, we know that formal education of disabled people started in India in the year 1869 by Church Missionary Society. To be honest, education of the disabled people in India is still dependent on charity groups or NGOs. Government run educational institutions are few and far between. As a result, majority of the disabled children, who are from rural areas cannot access education at all. It may be noted that the overwhelming majority of the special schools run by NGOs are concentrated in urban areas.
Even though the terms like equality, equity and inclusion are used many times in the policy document, there are many loopholes which need to be addressed from a disability activist perspective. One amongst them if the recommendation of grouping schools together to form a school complex. NEP says school complex will consist of one secondary school and other schools, aanganwadis in a 5-10 km radius. We have no idea where will special schools fall in this space.
How will privatization of educational institutions affect disabled community? RPD Act specifies reservation of seats in Government run institutes of higher learning only. Thus, private organisations do not have any obligation to these students. We can never forget that disability and poverty issue go hand in hand. So, making education an expensive commodity will affect disabled community as also other marginalised the most.
Many of us have read stories from Panchatantra in our childhood days. Some scholars believe that Panchatantra was written to educate three princes who were “feeble-minded” – few researchers claim that India thus was keen to educate those with intellectually disabled too in the ancient times also. But it is important to understand that Panchatantra was created for male children of the king as they cannot remain uneducated. Whether disabled children of ordinary citizens get similar educational opportunities?
If NEP 2020 is implemented the way it is envisioned now, education will become inaccessible to majority of students from middle and lower economic backgrounds, ability/disability notwithstanding.
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