Professor Anita Julka, Researcher with the Department of Education, Groups with Special Needs, of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), has been working in the field of “inclusive education” of children with “special abilities”. Professor Julka spoke to Dibyendu Mondal on educating specially-abled children and said that the Narendra Modi-led government has the right attitude towards such children. Excerpts:
Q. What does “inclusive education” mean?
A: “Inclusive education” means inclusion of specially-abled children into the mainstream education system. It involves increasing the learning and participation experience in the classroom. Having such children in a classroom setting “diversifies” the experience of learning through inclusion of the segregated into the mainstream.
Q. Why is it important to have inclusive education?
A: Inclusive education helps the society to become more acceptable towards children with special needs. When these special kids go to a regular school, they communicate with other kids, make friends and learn a lot of new things they would not have been exposed to in a “special school”.
Q. What role should schools play to mainstream specially-abled children?
A: It is important that schools play a responsible role to check discriminatory attitude. Teachers should be welcoming to such children. They should be given adequate training to teach such children. There should be a change in attitude in both teachers and other students.
Q. But there are schools that are reluctant to admit children with special needs as they feel this would affect other children. What should schools do to remove such stereotypes?
A: It is wrong to believe that by having children with disability in the classroom, the teacher would become slow; rather the teacher should adopt multi-sensorial ways of teaching, invoking different senses to teach different subjects. Dealing with children with disabilities makes you a better teacher. Some parents may wonder why their children should be made to study with such “normal” children, but if one is trained for teaching in an “inclusive classroom”, it would amount to better learning for all children. We need to shift our focus from the traditional approach of using board and chalk to teaching with the help of modern technology.
Q. What modern teaching methods can be adopted to teach children with disabilities?
A: Creating “universal design” for developing flexible learning environments that can meet the individual learning needs and differences requires the use of methods like providing material in digital format and in verbal, visual, tactual, and written forms using cognitive strategies proceeding from simple to complex, concrete to abstract, step by step, using concept maps, project and group work, and peer tutoring.
Q. What is the rate of dropouts of such children from school?
A: Dropouts are huge and are mainly after the primary level. This happens because teachers still lack the training to handle such students in class and “special” children are not easily accepted in regular classrooms and feel left out. At times, even parents are unwilling to send them to school as they feel other children would tease them. I interviewed about 200 teachers and students and found that the dropouts want to come to school, but need a bit of acceptance by other children.
Q. What are the policies currently in place to help mainstream “special” children?
A: The Central government has a number of schemes. Under the Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009 and the Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan, no “special” child can be denied admission into government and government-aided schools. The Persons with Disabilities Act is also there, but the problem is with implementation and monitoring.
Q. What is the role of terminology?
A: Negative terminology should be avoided. We should identify the strengths of “special” children and not their weaknesses. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called specially-abled people divyang (divine body) and not viklang, this is a very welcome step. This government has the right attitude towards such children and things are expected to change for the better.
Q. How much has been done to include “special” children in regular classrooms?
A: There is still not enough involvement on the part of teachers with the learning process of each child in the classroom. It sometimes becomes difficult to do so with large classrooms where children are treated as identical except for those who are “stars” or high achievers or those who do not perform. A teacher can, while teaching itself, come to know of problems and adapt the content and methods to the individual child.