MHRD digital learning guidelines not adequate for children with disabilities, say experts
The Ministry of Human Resource Development has released Pragyata, a rulebook with guidelines for digital and online education for states. The guidelines, however, do not consider the varying needs and challenges of children with disabilities. That’s the focus on #StoryOfTheWeek.
From guidelines for schools, teachers, parents and children, to health and wellness tips, Pragyata, the rulebook released by the Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has extensive guidelines for digital and online education.
Yet, just one section in the 20-page rulebook has been devoted to teaching children with disabilities. This has disappointed experts and parents, as it falls short of addressing their specific needs and challenges.
One section on teaching children with disabilities
The section titled – Digital Education Tips for CWSM says:
- Select and use appropriate assistive technologies for CWSN.
- Develop and use resources like audio books/talking books, TTS, sign language videos, audio tactile materials, etc.
- Use accessibility curriculum of NCERT.
- Encourage students to watch the NIOS sign language TV channel.
- Encourage online classes with customised activities, flexible schedule and involve parents, siblings, peers, special educators and volunteers.
Shailja Sharma, a Delhi-based parent to a child with disability and lawyer, appreciates the MHRD’s efforts but has some concerns about the mention of innovations in content. “What if the child dose not find the session interesting enough to give attention and learn?”. Broadly, she is happy with the take. “There has to be more focus on the technical know how of teachers and parents to make this workable”.
Suchitra Narayan is a parent to an adult with multiple disabilities and a special education consultant based in Kochi. She is also the founder of Sanskriti, a centre for inclusion that acts as a networking base for professionals in the field. She calls the guidelines broad-based with clear instructions for teachers and school heads, but oblivious to many practicalities.
Access to devices, Net the main barrier
The larger wall that this digital push comes up against is access. “What happens to children who do not have access to assistive devices, or the Internet or even electricity”, asks Suchitra.
Educational content must be individualised for children with varying disabilities. Like for children who are visually impaired, the content must be descriptive. Similarly, deaf children need sign language interpretation for topics like vector diagrams. The challenge is to create content that is accessible to different populations and create a system of paced learning. – Suchitra Narayan, Founder, Sanskriti Resource Centre
It’s a challenge that is not peculiar to India alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way children across the world are learning as many countries shift to online learning. A move that is especially worrying for parents of disabled children. In states like Pennsylvania and Virginia in the United States, families have filed official complaints and even moved court over the systemic lack of instructions from schools.
Parents not equipped with skills
Back in India, a first step could be to make the MHRD guidelines public suggests Suchitra. “At the moment few people have access to it. Unless it’s published, how will a parent know whom to go to for help?”
Seema Lal, a special educator and founder of parents’ support group TogetherWeCan, is troubled by the onus placed on schools and parents.
“The issue is that the sudden, long term and indefinite closure of schools has left parents of children with special needs really struggling”. Seema says this is because schools have not focused on training parents of disabled children in encouraging independent skills of daily living.
Going forward this needs to change. “Now at least the focus should be on the needs of each family and how best professionals can guide parents to enable their children to become independent learners”, she says. There are other issues as well, adds Suchitra. “Parental anxieties, children’s frustration at being cooped in and the resulting behavioural issues are also of greater concern now”.
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