A couple of days back the results of the Class 10 exams of Gujarat Board released. Two of the toppers were from ‘marginalised’ groups, one was the daughter of a daily wage labourer and another a visually impaired boy and there were two articles in a national newspaper.
While I felt some joy at the triumph of the resilience of these children to fight their battles in a society which is more often than not discriminatory to their needs, I realise more strongly than ever that all children do not have access to the same opportunities.
The parents of my students in mainstream schools worry everyday that there will be a call from the school which will force them to take their children out of the school and their hunt for another school that will ‘accept’ their child will have to start again. If its not about pulling their child out of school, it is the constant reminder of the student’s ‘inadequacies’ to fit into a mainstream classroom – hyperactive, agressive, stubborn, dyslexic, slow learner.
I think schools need to start equipping themselves with strategies and personnel to help them manage diverse classrooms. They must get trained teachers or psychologists, or special educators to handle a classroom that hosts children with different needs and different levels of energy. They need to embrace disability as part of diversity. In a country with a population like India’s we are going to need mainstream schools accepting children with different abilities if we want to achieve the goal of education for all. Besides only an inclusive education system could result in an inclusive society. Only if a child grows up in a diverse environment will he learn to value his differences and respect those of others.
Inclusive schools are an urgent need but while we are waiting for this must we abandon the idea of my students with autism, down’s syndrome, learning disability, ADHD integrating these schools? Must we wait for schools to be equipped so as to ensure students like mine do not suffer discrimination? In search of our ideal of inclusion are we sacrificing the self esteem of our ‘special’ students? Are we not ready for inclusion yet? Because the reality of today is that most of my students with special needs will end up going to special needs schools by the end of their school education (what I presume is also true for the majority of India), but we must not stop trying to change that.
More and more parent groups, teachers and professionals in India are working towards inclusive schools. Though it remains a miniscule minority it is their presence that keeps me positive.
I leave you with some links:
These websites are a great resource for Inclusive Classrooms – The Inclusive Class, Think Inclusive and Inclusive Education
This video on What is Inclusion?
This Feminist utopic story ‘Sultana’s dream’ written by Bengali writer Rokheya Hussein in 1905. Like women like her who wrote stories like these, our ‘special’ boys and girls in ‘mainstream’ schools today are the pioneers of the fight towards inclusive schools and an inclusive society.
Please feel free to leave links of inclusive schools that you might know of in India.