The nation is poised at a historic threshold that could, in the coming years, usher in equity and participation for millions of youth and children suffering from a range of disabilities, as their participation in the mainstream education in the past five decades of independence has been near zero, with only two percent of children with disabilities getting any kind of schooling. This hope has been kindled by promising hints in various reports presented at the Central Advisory Board of Education (C.A.B.E.) meeting held in the Capital from 14-15 July 2005. Parvinder Singh reviews highlights of these reports from the point of the disability sector and interventions made by Javed Abidi, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.), who was nominated to the C.A.B.E. Committee by Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh.
During the two-day C.A.B.E. meeting, issues of Inclusive Education and specific provisions for students and youth with disabilities came into focus in discussions on Universalisation of Secondary Education, girls’ education and a note by Human Resource Development Ministry on the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Inclusive Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities.
Universalisation of Secondary Education Blueprint envisages mainstream education for children and youth with mental and physical disabilities:
The Central Advisory Board of Education (C.A.B.E.) Committee on Universalisation of Secondary Education, under the Chairmanship of Ghanshyam Tiwari, Education Minister, Government of Rajasthan and Prof. Krishna Kumar, Director, National Council for Educational Research & Training (N.C.E.R.T.), made significant reference to addressing the needs of universal access and inclusive education for children with both “physical and mental” disabilities in attaining the goal of education for all Indians by 2020.
The Committee’s report was circulated at the two-day C.A.B.E. meeting. Javed Abidi intervened during discussion on the draft to raise concerns from the point of view of the disability sector.
The frame of reference for the Committee was to prepare a blueprint for the universalisation of secondary education consequent upon the attainment of universalisation of elementary education. The Committee advocated a paradigm shift in the conceptual design of secondary education and offered four guiding principles as pillars on which future edifice of universal secondary education can be built.
An important shift with regard to the issue of universal access is visible in the report. It says: “Access is to be envisaged in physical, social, cultural and economic terms, which calls for redefinition of some of the basic features of the Indian school. Solving the problem at the physical level alone for the child without a change in the mindsets of the classmates, teachers and the curriculum planners or textbook writers would be inadequate. And for this, the school should be able to create a new cultural ambience and child-friendly curriculum.”
The second important point that the report makes is about equality and social justice, where it significantly and distinctly mentions both mental and physical disabilities. It said: “The school system will have to strive for six dimensions of equality and social justice viz., (a) gender, (b) economic disparity, (c) social i.e. SCs/STs, (d) culture (including the issues of religious and linguistic diversity, (e) disability (both physical and mental) and (f) rural-urban. These need to be reflected in the curriculum to build up the self-esteem of each child so as to ensure that all children are able to complete their secondary education.”
Javed Abidi welcomed the broad outlook towards the definition of disability and urged a little more elaboration and categorical mention on the issue of access and barrier-free environment during the mention of universal access. He specifically appreciated the usage of the term “physical and mental disability”, as this marks recognition of the fact that the government, at least in concept, envisages participation of children with mental disabilities at the secondary school level education.
Javed Abidi also brought to the notice of the members that the three-language formula proposed in the report would be detrimental for children and youth using sign language; he also raised the demand for inclusion of sign language in the list of official languages. On the point of making material available in different languages through translation and Braille and computer aided facilities for making quality material available to the disabled children, he once again stressed on availability of information in sign language.
Planning and management
On planning and management, the report makes another significant point that, “The education of SCs, STs, OBCs, cultural and linguistic minorities and disabled (both physical and mental), with gender being the determining factor in each of these groups. It also states that Secondary Education Management Information System should define mechanisms to monitor their education of the focus groups. This will facilitate building access, equality, relevance and structural parameters of secondary education to ensure universal secondary education among marginalised sections of the society.”
“Given the wide regional disparities in educational development, such national macro-level projections would be of limited value as a tool for policy making and planning. Projections must be made for each state with disaggregating into districts, blocks, gender, castes, religious and linguistic background, disability, etc.” Abidi welcomed this point by the report, as it would lead to filling of the vital statistical vacuum that exists in disability data.
School mapping and course mapping
In the section on school and course mapping, the report said: “In urban and semi-urban areas and in rural areas, reasonably well developed road connectivity and transportation, norms of distance should be relaxed to create viable large high quality schools. Equally important is the concern for the education of girls, keeping in view the parental hesitation in sending girls to long distances and or study in co-educational schools.”
To this point Javed Abidi highlighted the fact that access for students with disabilities need special attention for transportation, which again is not restricted just to the roads.
The vision of the bill is to provide high quality secondary education to all Indian adolescent girls and boys up to the age of 16 by 2015, and senior secondary education up to the age of 18 by 2020.
Human Resource Development Ministry slates Rs. 1,000 crore for Inclusive Education for children and youth with disabilities:
In a promising development for the disability sector, Minister of Human Resource Development Arjun Singh has announced an outlay of Rs.1000 crore for the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Inclusive Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities. This was stated in a note circulated at the C.A.B.E. meeting.
The note further said: “The thrust of the Government’s policy on Inclusive Education is that persons with disabilities need to be admitted into mainstream institutions and not dependent solely on specialist institutions. This will call for changes and enhancements not only in physical infrastructure and the availability of study material but also in mindset and attitudes.”
Another important development from the point of view of the disability sector is that the document has defined the term disability in its broader meaning: “The term disability used in this scheme will include visual impairments (blind and low-vision), speech and hearing impairments, locomotor disabilities, neuromusculosketal, neurodevelopment disorders including cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, multiple and learning disabilities.”
The inclusion of learning disability, autism, nerodevelopment disorder, etc. is certainly a leap forward.
Further, to ensure that the implementation of the action plan is kept on track, a Standing Committee will be constituted to oversee the plan’s application. The Maharashtra Education Minister would head the Committee.
Committee on Girls’ Education falls short of adequately addressing disability in its recommendations:
The C.A.B.E. Committee on Girls’ Education and the Common School System deliberated on the three themes assigned to the Committee, including Girls’ Education, Common School System and Inclusive Education including Education for Children with Disabilities/Special Needs.
The theme of Girls’ Education had been studied in depth and a very comprehensive note on issues and recommendations prepared by the committee including the need to oppose the instrumental approach in girls’ education; need for the targets to be achieved in terms of their achievement and performance along with enrollment and retention; provision for regular schooling of good quality to all the girls; etc.
But the Committee seemed to have missed out completely on disability, and two interventions were made by Javed Abidi to highlight the need to consider disabled students while talking about obstacles, as disability is one of the biggest obstacles for a girl child. The second intervention was regarding the creation of separate toilet facilities, where he said the toilets should be accessible to disabled girl students.
The Committee recommended that the state should pursue the Common School System in order to prevent commercialism and exploitation and encourage the heterogeneity of the social mix of children in all schools; unaided private schools should reserve 25-30 per cent seats for meritorious but poor students; only professional full-time qualified teachers to be accepted; teacher student ratio not to exceed 1:40 providing good textbooks free of cost, and so on.
But coming to recommendations regarding Inclusive Education, there did not seem to be an effort to understand the various issues as only a brief mention was made regarding building capacity of teachers to function in an inclusive setting; making support services available in the form of technology; and involving parents, family and community at all stages of education.
Abidi once again intervened, stating that the recommendations were simplistic and needed elaboration and that even the most basic requirement such as Access was not mentioned. He stressed the need for a more thorough study in order to come up with detailed recommendations so as to include various important aspects missing in the present document.
The Free and Compulsory Education Bill which was debated during the two-day meeting of C.A.B.E., is not being tabled in the current session of Parliament as the Committee failed to reach a consensus regarding various aspects of the Bill.