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“The option for home-based education should not be there in the law,” Radhika Alkazi

The disability movement in India has been moving forward progressively in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The law however, is inching towards regressive steps such as making home-based education part of the proposed Amendments to the R.T.E. Act, 2009. Shilpi Ganguly of D.N.I.S. catches up with Radhika Alkazi, Managing Trustee and Director, Aarth-Astha to seek her views on the controversial issue.

D.N.I.S.: What is your reaction to the proposed Amendments to the R.T.E. Act, 2009, which offers home-based education as a legitimate, alternative option for education of children with severe or multiple disabilities?

Radhika Alkazi: I am totally opposed to the idea of home-based education and horrified that it is being given as a legitimate option. Children with severe disabilities need the maximum support to come out of the house and into the educational setting. The unequal relationship between the poor family and the education system will push out children with severe disabilities if home-based education is legitimised.

What is also problematic is that even after ratifying United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (C.R.P.D.), we are categorising children with disabilities as children with severe disabilities and multiple disabilities. The disability sector is moving forward in so many ways. So how can the law go back to defining these categories without taking into cognisance the understanding of C.R.P.D.?

This is a very wrong time for the law to be amended in this way.

D.N.I.S.: Do you believe home-based education should be completely abolished in India? If so, why?

Radhika Alkazi: Firstly, we need to unpack some of these words. What does home-based education mean? If it is the only alternative, then it needs to be abolished. We need administrative flexibility to integrate children with disabilities in the education system. Home-based education can be seen as a preparation for that. But the Government should think of providing support services such as rehabilitation services at home, social security for the family, personal assistant for the child etc.

Children with disabilities should not be confined at home in the primary stages of their life. Think of these children in rural areas and urban slums. What kind of curriculum would they have under home-based education? What would be the standard? The option for home-based education should not be there in the law.

D.N.I.S.: What steps should be taken to make education more inclusive in India and ensure that these measures are, in reality, implemented?

Radhika Alkazi: Inclusive education in India needs some real planning. This includes creating a demand for education for children with disabilities; accessibility; proper teaching materials; huge curricula reform; trained personnel; safety and security issues at school and learning from best practices across the world.

There is a need to rethink the entire education system the system has to include all children. The Right to Education Act has done that to some extent by bringing in continuous evaluation and monitoring, formal schooling etc. But other areas need to be looked into. The reasons behind children being out of school are quite similar; the Government needs to look into all these issues and then focus on the needs of specific sets of children.

In case of children with disabilities, there is a huge lack of convergence between different Government Ministries. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (M.H.R.D.) has engaged with disability issues a little, but not with the development happening in the disability sector. For example, they do not have an understanding of C.R.P.D. Children with disabilities are also invisible in most policy matters.

D.N.I.S.: Do you think society/families are equally responsible for perpetuating the notion that children with severe disabilities need home-based education, or is it lack of adequate understanding within the Government?

Radhika Alkazi: The Government is made by all of us. It is part of the society. The Government is responsible only as far as policy and law is concerned. There are clear divisions amongst us, including in the disability sector. I do not think we can hold the family alone to be responsible. Till the time the demand for education for children with disabilities is not as high as that of others, the negative attitude will persist.