Are Our Schools Truly Inclusive?
Inclusion is a much-debated term all over the world. The definition of inclusion or the interpretation of it varies from place to place or activity to activity and thus we fail to move inclusion as whole. Inclusion currently is described by many as an event where the whole community participates to include each member in all socio-educational events.
Inclusion can be participatory, access based, resource based, need based or right based. The most common approaches are – Right based and Need based.
Right based inclusion puts forth the idea of one school for all. The rights are same for every individual and thus a medical diagnosis is exclusionary as it labels a person. Importance is given to the social aspect of inclusion.
In need-based inclusion, the children with special needs who would benefit from learning in the mainstream classroom are part of it. The children who require specialized pedagogies, which are difficult to incorporate in the mainstream school, learn in the special education centres. India and many other countries are moving towards the rights-based inclusion. Other social conditions too effect inclusion.
In our country, we have two parallel systems in education – government schools / aided schools and private schools. The schools in the neighbourhood do not necessarily cater to the children living in the locality, as it is in many western countries. Here it is the choice of the parent to seek admission in a particular school. Economic strata govern the choosing of schools. Parent has a choice and schools choose too.
It is encouraging to see that there is a growing interest in education for children with disability. But most of the work for the marginalized population, which includes the special needs population, is done by the non-governmental organizations.
Schools taking the initiative to be “inclusive” ironically look out for students with minimal special education needs. Although the intention is there to incorporate them into the school, apprehensions exist. Apprehensions could be on the provision of space, monetary allocation, human resources etc.
The battle of incorporating children with special education needs into the system was addressed with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) in 2010. Although it has become imperative to include all children, it is not easy following the policies without the backing of resources that are required to give equal opportunities to all the children. We surely started with integration but have not reached inclusion in the true sense with the present policies. Policies need to bring in social change not change the outward shell.
India prides itself to be a secular, all encompassing, and resilient nation. We take great pleasure in resting on the laurels of Gurukula system of education. In fact, we are happy to enumerate the achievements of our ancestors but would like western education for our children! There is nothing wrong with western education except that fitting systems developed in different nations may not necessarily be a hit “fit” in our system. We are confused as a nation on what to follow. We look out for quick fixes but they, unfortunately, do not work on human development or learning.
(The writer is Principal, Vydehi School, Bangalore. Vydehi School provides need-based learning programs for children with developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, cognitive impairment etc. The school also has after-school support program for children with Specific Learning Disability.)