Volume 4 Issue 5 - March 01, 2006

Inclusive education needs funds

“We have demonstrated the practicability of inclusive education by setting up inclusive aanganwadis in slums of Mumbai, leading to absorption of over 3,000 children and families into mainstream education,” says Mithu Alur, Chairperson of National Resource Centre for Inclusion, in an editorial piece in Times of India dated 26 February 2006.

 The pioneering Inclusive Education plan announced by HRD Minister will need ample and regular funding the Union Budget should address this.

In March 2005, human resource development (H.R.D.) minister Arjun Singh made a landmark statement. He said in Parliament that mainstream education would not reject children with special needs. To quote Singh, "It should and will be our objective to make mainstream education not just available but accessible, affordable and appropriate for students with disabilities". Would Budget 2006-07 reflect this intent?

After Singh's statement, several national-level consultations were conducted to elicit views of concerned people, and an action plan was drawn up. However, HRD ministry has been unable to act upon Singh's statement in Parliament. With little likelihood of budgetary support for inclusive education, Singh's remarks would end up meaning nothing.

Inclusive education is a vital part of discussion on developments in education at both national and international levels. The earlier system of segregated education, or special schools for children with disabilities, was a reflection of care, not rights or entitlements. It is now believed that this should be replaced by inclusive education with emphasis on rights, equal opportunity and participation.

International declarations and meetings at Salamanca, Dakar, and nearer home in Kochi have reiterated the importance of all children being educated together.

Inclusive education addresses a large diversity of pupils and involves differentiating each of their needs. The concept is not restricted only to children with disabilities but encompasses all, who for some reason or the other face barriers to learning and get excluded from mainstream education. It is a never-ending process rather than a simple change of state and is dependent on continuous pedagogical and organisational development within the mainstream. Inclusive education improves the quality of education for all children.

In India, we find that disabled children are a group that still suffers massive exclusion. The Integrated Child Development Services (I.C.D.S.) programme, run by the HRD's Department of Women and Child, excludes children with special needs.

Through research we have demonstrated the practicability of inclusive education by setting up inclusive aanganwadis in slums of Mumbai, leading to absorption of over 3,000 children and families into mainstream education. Legislation — in the form of Persons with Disability Act, 1995 — and policies are in place, but implementation has suffered. What perhaps explains this lethargy is the fact that over 50 million disabled, most of them poor, do not translate into a strong political constituency.

A system that claims to work for the poor discriminates against about 20 million children, of whom four to five million are below five years of age, with special needs. 'Education for All' will remain an empty promise, if children with disabilities lack access to education. As much as 98 per cent of India's disabled people do not receive any governmental care.

Piecemeal services by NGOs have taken the place of state involvement. Proper representation of the disabled in policy-making has not taken place. The I.C.D.S. policy of non-inclusion of disabled children into their programmes is symptomatic of the wider social malaise.

Initially, the UPA government was responsive to this shocking state of affairs. ICDS was mandated to include all children with special needs. It was declared that education of children with disabilities be put under H.R.D. ministry, as reco-mmended by Kothari commission and others. Despite numerous meetings with the HRD ministry, it appears the Budget will not do justice to inclusive education.

Professionals and citizens have done their bit by providing an action plan. The ball is now in the government's court. The government needs to know that it cannot get away with rhetoric and empty promises. It has to show political will by executing policy on the ground.

We will not be truly globalised until we also extend the benefits of development beyond the 30 per cent who enjoy it to the rest, including the disabled, who are still excluded. We all have a responsibility, in our spheres of work, to extend ourselves in this endeavour.

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