TN parents protest move to hold board exams for disabled children appearing privately
The Tamil Nadu government has said that disabled children studying Class 10 privately must take the pending board exams. This is unfair, say their parents, given that board exams for all other students have been cancelled due to the coronavirus threat. Why are children studying privately not being given the same consideration, they ask.
Malathi Balakrishnan’s son Vignesh was all set to take the class 10 board exams this year when the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. 24-year-old Vignesh has cerebral palsy and studies privately.
At first the Tamil Nadu government postponed the board exams. Later it decided to cancel them altogether given the health risks. All students, it said, would be passed.
Order discriminatory towards disabled children
Now in a fresh order the state education department has said that disabled students appearing for exams privately like Vignesh will have to sit for them after all. A move that has upset parents across the state.
Malathi, along with other parents of disabled children, has set a strong letter of protest to the taluka office in Tiruchirapalli. There are over 200 children with disabilities in Tiruchirapalli affected by this decision.
First, they said that all the candidates with hall tickets for the board exams would be passed. Now they have said privately appearing candidates will have to take them. This is unfair not just to Vignesh but thousands of disabled children. Most of them apply privately as they don’t fall in the age appropriate categories to appear like the mainstream students. – Malathi Balakrishnan, Parent to child with cerebral palsy
Given the low immunity levels that children with disabilities like cerebral palsy have, parents are concerned about the risks due to COVID-19.
Disabled kids at higher risk of COVID-19
“They have higher chances of getting infected if they appear for the exam. My son Vignesh has fits and salivates constantly. In such a situation how will the scribe assigned to him understand what he is saying and write It down? Maintaining social distancing is a concern too”, says Malathi.
Similar concerns have been raised by parents of children with autism given their reluctance with face masks. “These children are mentally depressed now. We had trained them to take the exams and they were so satisfied and happy to know they had passed. We don’t want a mark sheet, just a certificate saying they have passed”, says Malathi.
Armugham Subramanaiam says he is having a hard time convincing his son Aravind to take the exam. “My son is 15 years old and has MR and autism. We had told him he had passed, and he wants to know why he must take the exams now after almost five months”.
There are plans to petition the Tamil Nadu Disability Commissioner for a rethink.
Disability rights activists slam move
Disability rights activist Vaishnavi Jayakumar points to the larger injustice of such unthinking decisions by authorities. “Disabled students are forced by school system barriers to appear privately for board examinations. Now they’re being made to appear for board exams in a pandemic instead of getting a pass like their non-disabled peers who are school students. What notions of justice are we teaching our children?”.
Calling this discrimination of the highest kind, Kalpana Rao, Principal, Vidya Sagar asks how the authorities plan to conduct the exams in an accessible manner. “This is an arbitrary decision taken without consulting various stakeholders. First of all how can you let other children pass but not disabled children? Also, how will you conduct them online, organise scribes? This needs to be taken up with the authorities”.
Meanwhile parents like Joseph Sagairaj are left grappling with the implications. His son Emmanuel Joseph, 15 years old, has been diagnosed with mental retardation (MR), mild autism and is a slow learner.
“No mainstream school in Tiruchirappalli would enrol Emmanuel because of his disability. He has always studied in a special school and we had prepared him well for the board exams. He was so happy to know he had passed. Now after five months he is being asked to prepare for the exams yet again. Society treats our children as outcastes as it is. This is so unjust”.
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