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“The entire system has to be overhauled,” G. Syamala

Home is the first and the natural place of education for all children. Then why legitimise it for children with high support needs in the law? The decision of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development to include the clause for home-based education to the proposed Amendments of the R.T.E. Act, 2009 comes as surprise to the disability sector, especially since this clause was neither in the Act earlier, nor in the earlier version of the Amendments. Shilpi Ganguly of D.N.I.S. talks to G. Syamala, Executive Director, Action for Ability Development and Inclusion (A.A.D.I.), about home-based education.

D.N.I.S.: What is your reaction to the proposed Amendments of 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?

G. Syamala: In a wider sense home is the first place of education and will continue to be one of the places of life-long education. This is applicable for all people. Then, why should we legitimise it for children with high support needs in the law?

It will be a disaster if we do that. This is an example of the State abdicating its responsibility. It is true that the current education system does not offer any relevant service for children with high support needs. The need of the hour is to amend the situation and make it workable for children with specific support requirements, rather than keep them at home unseen, unheard, unknown to anyone, in the guise of home-based education. There is a danger of further isolation and segregation which will have adverse effects on the growth and development of children with disabilities.

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

G. Syamala: We need to understand the difference between home-education, which is gaining a lot of popularity in India, and home-based education as it is being introduced for children with high support needs.

Home-education for any child, is an option some parents/families opt for their children as they find the current school education very restricting for the childs talents/interests/abilities to emerge in a natural fashion. Instead of the school taking over the process of education for their child, the parents take full responsibility for providing a rich, stimulating environment for the child to grow and learn. This is an option that parents make of their free will. It is not legitimised in any law. This option is available to parents of children with disabilities as well.

Home-based education as the only strategy for children with high support needs must definitely be abolished. Home is a natural place of education but should not become the only place of education.

However, in the current situation, where most children with disabilities including children with high support needs are out of school, home-based education becomes a strategy for preparing schools, children and families towards a formal education system which addresses the specific needs of children with disabilities. It is to be seen only as a temporary measure with a definite plan of action for an education system with an inclusive environment.

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?

G. Syamala: First of all there has to be a Policy Directive to say that we believe in inclusive education and that it is not an optional course of action. It should be mandatory to make the education system inclusive. And this includes suitably changing all teacher training programmes from nursery to M.Ed. It is not enough to just have a paper or a chapter on inclusive education in the teacher training programmes, because inclusive education is a philosophy. The training of teachers, transactions between teachers and students, teaching materials, evaluation process etc. have to undergo a change to ensure zero-rejection policy. The entire system has to be overhauled.

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?

G. Syamala: Government, society at large and families are equally responsible for promoting the notion of home-based education as the only option for children with high support needs.

In the current education system, many children with high support needs exposed to a formal education system have had a raw deal with negative impact on their well-being. It is these experiences which is promoting the notion of home-based education for children with disabilities.

Education and academic excellence or scholastic achievement is often used interchangeably. The pressure or expectation of the education system to create islands/individuals of academic excellence pushes children with non-scholastic needs out of the system. This is true for children with or without disabilities. The non-scholastic needs of children, a part and parcel of education, are often not understood or misunderstood by the policy makers, society at large, educational institutions and families. These are neither part of the syllabus or classroom transactions nor part of the teacher-education processes. The need of the hour is to understand that scholastic and non-scholastic areas of education are of equal importance and weightage. Systems, policies and processes of transactions and evaluations for the same should be put in place.