Volume 2 Issue 16 - August 15, 2004

Campaign for inclusive education launched

On the 57th Independence Day of the nation, NCPEDP posed some brutal questions on behalf of the more than 70 million persons with disability in India: When will we be free? When will we become visible in the mainstream of Indian education, in particular, and in other fields, in general?

Picture of Subodh Bhargava speaking.

The occasion was the launch of an awareness campaign on Inclusive Education, in India Habitat Centre, on August 15. Focusing attention on the difficulties and obstacles faced by disabled students in India, the campaign aims to increase such students' access to institutions of higher learning. It highlighted a study carried out by NCPEDP to assess the educational status of disabled youth, the first study of its kind in the country.

Proceedings were kicked off by Javed Abidi, Executive Director, NCPEDP, welcoming the participants. In his remarks, Subodh Bhargava, Executive Trustee, NCPEDP, said that the fact the Arjun Singh, Minister for Human Resource Development, agreed to come on this day, of all days, is significant. "Today means freedom, today means informed choice," he pointed out. "And today the nation, while celebrating independence and freedom, should spare a thought for the disabled citizens."

Bhargava emphasised that the current situation needed to be tackled by activists, the government and the private sector in partnership. The situation, bleak as it may be - NCPEDP's audit shows that only about 2 per cent of youth with disability, in the country, have access to education of any kind - must be rectified. Very few respondents were aware of the 3 per cent reservation for students with disabilities.

Abidi then discussed the startling figures thrown up by the education audit. The questionnaire was sent to 322 colleges and universities; only 119 responded. Of these, 38 had no disabled student on the rolls.

According to the replies, only 1635 disabled students were enrolled; by extrapolating these figures to institutions across the country, Abidi reasoned that there could not be more 4424 disabled students all over the country - dismal by any standard. The verdict? The education system has left disabled students behind.

Picture of a young volunteer translating M.V. Joses's speech into sign language.

M.V. Jose, Representative, Amici Di Raoul Follereau Trust (AIFO Trust), extended the thought. The next step, he said, is to decide what to do. "We have good policy, we do not have good practice," he said. "AIFO has always worked in partnerships with the government and non-government sector" to achieve the aim of educating every child, especially children with disabilities.

Education, declared Jose, provides an opportunity to break out of poverty. Inclusive education goes further - it gives a child the chance to challenge prejudice, become visible, become part of the mainstream.

What we need today is accountability. Educational system and programmes must be designed to take into account special education needs, accommodated within the framework of a child-oriented pedagogy. All of us - government, community, family, children, international and national NGOs - need to pool our strengths and resources together.

Then, a specially designed poster was released by Arjun Singh, Minister for Human Resource Development. He promised to take the issue up on a priority basis at the appropriate levels. "If the situation is really as bad," the minister said, "then it is a sad comment on national thought. Those who refuse to understand disability or accept it are, in actual fact, disabled."

Picture of the audience.

The day's proceedings came to an end with the screening of a short commercial titled 'Hum kab honge azaad?' (literally, 'When will we be free?'). Speaking of his experiences during the making of the commercial, director Parvez Imam, said, "It is a sad film, and I hope that someone will do something to improve the situation so I can make a happier film." Zee News, Sony Entertainment TV and India TV have agreed to broadcast it on a pro bono basis.

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