Many national as well as international programmes have attempted to reach out the marginalized children but those with disabilities are often forgotten and remain invisible. In the 1990s, international aid agencies recommended that poverty reduction programmes specifically target people with disabilities in addition to other disadvantaged groups, such as women, scheduled castes or dalits and tribal communities (World Bank, 2004). The MDGs approved by world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, recommended that poverty reduction efforts has to include individuals with disabilities along with already targeted groups. These MDGs have been provided the framework for government intervention in India, contributing to legislation and programmes for inclusive education as a cost-effective and quality option for all excluded children. Despite these efforts for inclusive education in India, about 94% of children with disabilities didn’t receive any educational services. It is due the shortcomings of the earlier legislations. As a response to these limitations of earlier efforts for promoting inclusive education, the government of India introduced new policies on the education of children with disabilities.
This paper identifies the limitations of these earlier efforts in the context of survey findings and examines the responsiveness of the recent policies for inclusion to these limitations of earlier efforts. The challenges of the Inclusive Education Policy and the service provisions in India will be discussed in the paper.
One of the greatest problems the world is facing today is the growing number of persons who are excluded from the meaningful partnership in the economic, social, political and cultural life of their communities. Such a society is neither efficient nor safe.
The Jomtien World Conference on Education for All in Thailand in 1990 set the goal of Education for All. UNESCO, along with other UN agencies, and a number of international and national non-governmental organizations, has been working towards achieving this goal-adding to the efforts made at the country level.
Ten years after the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990, many stakeholders maintained that insufficient progress had been made towards the realization of Education for All (EFA) and that a renewed commitment was necessary. The World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, adopted a Framework for Action focusing on the achievement by 2015 of six EFA goals.
Despite encouraging developments, there are still an estimated 113 million children in the world not enrolled in primary school (DFID, 2001). In case of India, there are an estimated 25 million children out of school (MHRD 2003 Statistics, cited in World Bank, 2004), many of whom are marginalized by the dimensions such as , poverty, gender, disability and caste. Many national as well as international programmes have attempted to reach out these excluded children but those with disabilities are often forgotten and remain invisible. It is recognized that current strategies and programmes have largely been insufficient or inappropriate with regard to needs of children and youth who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion. Where programmes targeting various marginalized and excluded groups do exist, they have functioned outside the mainstream.
In the 1990s, international aid agencies recommended that poverty reduction programmes specifically target people with disabilities in addition to other disadvantaged groups, such as women, scheduled castes or dalits and tribal communities (World Bank, 2004). The Dakar World Education Forum, 2000 confirmed that education can play a key role in overcoming exclusion of the disabled. Inclusive Education was identified as a key strategy for the development of EFA. The MDGs approved by world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, also recommended that poverty reduction efforts has to include individuals with disabilities along with already targeted groups. These MDGs have been provided the framework for government intervention in India, contributing to legislation and programmes for inclusive education as a cost-effective and quality option for all children-children with disability included.
Despite these efforts for inclusive education in India, about 94% of children with disabilities didn’t receive any educational services and some specific groups like children/youth with mental retardation; disabled children in rural areas, and girls/women with disabilities were further marginalized and remain unidentified. In addition to NSS Survey, many studies indicated fragmented implementation of inclusive education (Alur, 2002; Jangira, 2002), exclusion of people who don’t fit the required criteria (Singal, 2005), inadequate resources and dissemination (Jha, 2001), miniscule coverage of children with disabilities in the mainstream institutions (Julka, 2005). All these studies indicate towards the lack of quality programming for inclusive education.
Further as a response to these limitations of earlier efforts for promoting inclusive education, the government of India introduced two new policies on the education of children with disabilities- The Action Plan for Inclusion in Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities (IECYD) 2005, and The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, 2006.
Disability and the Millennium Development Goals
In the late 1990s, international aid agencies identified people with disabilities as another vulnerable group, noting that disability is both a cause and a result of poverty (World Bank, 2004). It was thought that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for education (MDG 2- universal primary education in all the countries by 2015) cannot be achieved without Disability Focus (DFID, 2002). Thus, disability became a centre stage priority for Indian Government to reduce poverty and various legislations were enacted in the nineties for providing education to children with special needs.
Legislations for Inclusion of Persons with Disability
In the 1990s, the government enacted three disability related legislations- The Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) Act, 1992; The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995; and The National Trust (for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities) Act, 1999.
The Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) Act 1992 passed in the Parliament, was created by the then Ministry of Welfare (presently known as the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) to regulate the manpower development programmes in the field of education of children with special needs. The major responsibilities of the RCI are to regulate the training policies and programmes in the field of rehabilitation of people with disabilities to bring about standardization of training courses for professionals dealings with people with disabilities; to prescribe minimum standards of education and training of various categories of professionals dealings with people with disabilities; to recognize institutions/universities running degree/diploma/certificate courses in the field of rehabilitation of the disabled and to regulate recognition, whenever facilities are not satisfactory and to maintain Central Rehabilitation Register of persons possessing the recognized rehabilitation qualification.
The Persons With Disabilities (PWD) Act, 1995 mandates that state or local governments (1) undertake yearly screenings to identify ‘at risks’ cases, and public awareness media campaigns on causes and prevention, (2) ensure every disabled child’s access to a free education in an appropriate environment, promoting integration in normal schools, (3) authorize a 3% reservation quota in employment, (4) provide accessibility to buildings, transport and other public services, and (5) appoint a Disability Commissioner to monitor funds and safeguards the rights of people with disabilities.
The National Trust Act, 1999, provides for the constitution of a central body, the National Trust, to safeguard the rights and interests of people with disabilities. The Trust’s primary objectives are to enable people with disability to live as independently as possible within and as close to the community to which they belong, by (1) extending support and need based services for families during periods of crisis, (2) developing procedures for appointing a guardian or trustee in the event of a parent’s death, and (3) establishing self-help groups towards realizing their rights. Facilities may include respite care, foster family care or day care, residential hotels and homes.
Limitations of the earlier legislations
Poor conceptualization and execution have impeded the impact of these legislations on inclusive education service provision. Studies on policy makers’ and school professionals’ perspective on inclusive education in India, found that inclusion is interpreted differently from the west (Singal, 2005). Singal noted that ‘integration’ and ‘inclusion’ were used interchangeably as if they meant the same, and that inclusion referred to an education not merely for the children with disabilities but for all the marginalized groups. Kalyanpur (2006), found that inclusive education is considered as any educational service, even a special school, for children with disabilities because it will result in their inclusion in society. The quality of any programme or policy will become meaningless in the absence of proper conceptualization and real and common understanding of inclusive education.
Another limitation of the earlier efforts is the weightage given to the medical model and charity of disability than the social or human rights model of disability. Social model, i.e. the human rights perspective on which the Acts are based, is not reflected in the larger societal milieu. Studies show that the general public considers it as an ‘obligation’ or ‘sympathy’ to meet the needs of the persons with disability and the professionals working in the field consider it as a ‘compromise’. The charity model assumes that the persons with disability need sympathy of others as they are suffering the consequences of their sins in past life. In this sense, the social model or human rights issue for the persons with disability became meaningless and rhetoric.
Further the medical model of disability isolates the experience of disability from external influences such as societal attitudes. Medical model defines disability scientifically, as a physical, medically-diagnosed deficit handicap. The focus here is on impairment.
The segregated education for the disabled is the result of this medical model of disability. In India, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment which is responsible for people with disability either falls into the category of locomotor, visual, hearing, speech or mental (GOI, 2005). This broad categorization further emphasizes more on ‘disablement’ approach rather than ‘capability’ approach.
The social model of disability believes that though a person is impaired, he/she can perform the same work as can performed by a non-disabled person, but what makes them really handicap is not the impairment but their handicapping environment i.e. societal attitudes or cultural norms that influence disabled peoples’ societal participation and human status; the medical model gives them the tag of being incapable due to organic defects. The absence of the social model approach is clearly visible in the earlier efforts for inclusive education by the Government of India.
There is also a lack of compliance by the states. The PWD Act mandates the appointment of a Disability Commissioner to monitor funds and safeguards the rights of people with disabilities, but the state governments work in their own way and their priorities differ from one another. Despite this legal mandate, only nine states have actually implemented independent Disability Commissioner to facilitate the administration and implementation (Asian Development Bank, 2002).This shows that the laws were not taken seriously by the state governments and there is a lack of compliance.
Prevalence of Disability in India
In India, estimates of disabled population come from two different sources, both adopting the household survey approach. These are- the Population census conducted once in every ten years and the Sample surveys of the disabled conducted again more or less once in ten years, by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) in the Ministry of Statistics and Progarmme implementation.
According to the 2001 Census, there were a total of 21.91 million disabled persons out of a total population of 1028 million. The prevalence rate was thus 2.13 percent of the total population.
The National Sample Survey Organization (NSS0) conducts sample surveys on various socio-economic subjects on a regular basis through their annual Rounds. The first comprehensive survey on the subject was conducted in their 36th Round (July-December 1981), then again in its 47th Round (July-December 1991) and most recently in its 58th Round (July-December 2002). The first two surveys (1981 and 1991) covered only physical disabilities, while the latest survey (2002) covered mental disabilities as well.
In 2002 survey it was found that about 8.4% of the households in the rural areas and 6.1% of those in the urban areas reported to have at least one disabled person. The number of disabled persons was estimated at 18.49 million during July-December 2002. This formed 1.8% of the total population. There were 14.09 million disabled persons in rural areas and 4.40 million in the urban areas. There were 10.89 million men and 7.60 million women among the disabled.
Classification of the number of the disabled persons estimated from NSS survey showed that about 0.99 million were mentally retarded and 1.10 million were suffering from various forms of mental illnesses, making up a total of 2.09 million persons with mental disabilities. Of the estimated 2.82 million with visual disabilities, 2.01 million were blind and 0.81 million had low vision. About 3.06 million had hearing disabilities, 2.15 million had speech problems and 10.63 million had locomotor disabilities.
The prevalence rates of disability, according to NSS survey were 1.8% for any type of disability, 2.0% among males and 1.5% among females. As in the Census, it was found that the prevalence rates were lower for females than the males and in the urban areas in comparison to rural areas.
The estimates based on data from NSS survey for 2002 were lower, in all categories (male, female, rural and urban), than the corresponding figures counted at the 2001 Population Census. The differences could have arisen due to a variety of reasons-definitional, operational and inaccuracies in reporting. Both sets of figures, which indicate a prevalence rate of about 2%, are considered as too low. For instance, The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), an NGO, argues that the percentage of disabled persons in the population is 5 to 6 percent and the number would accordingly be 60 to 70 million.
Limited Educational Service Provisions
The NSS survey 2002 shows that the total number of people with disabilities in the country is 18.49 million, constituting about 1.8% of the total population. In terms of educational levels, only 11% of the children with disabilities between the ages of 5-18 years in urban areas and less than 1% in rural areas, were enrolled in special schools, and only 7% in rural and 18% in urban areas having completed secondary education. Girls with disabilities had lower enrolment ratios than boys with disabilities. Of all the disability categories, persons with mental retardation were least likely to receive an education, had the lowest enrolment ratio in school.
In other words, children with disabilities in rural areas, children with mental retardation, and the girls with disabilities are the most marginalized and excluded categories of the disabled persons. The NSS survey shows these groups receive fewer services and remain invisible than the other persons with disabilities. The cause of their further marginalization is the prevailing cultural attitudes in the society.
Label-Based Segregation Practices in the Identification Process: Are persons with disabilities in the count?
The medical model of disability dominates the identification and labeling process of disability. It assumes that the disability is deficit within the individual that can be traced through the organic basis. It isolates the experience of disability from external influences such as societal attitudes. The medical model categorizes the disability into five types: locomotor, visual, hearing, speech and mental. This labeling process results in the further marginalization of certain groups of disability like-the persons with mental retardation, individuals with disability in rural areas, and the girls with disability.
According to the NSS 2002 survey, the rate of incidence of any disability was 69 per 100,000 populations. It is 69 persons in rural areas and 67 persons in urban areas. The small degree of difference between rural and urban areas is disproportionate to the distribution of general population. As, about 74% lives in rural areas, it indicates that a large number of rural people with disabilities are not included in the count. This limitation can be due to the lack of responses from the people as well as the ineffectiveness of the tools for data collection.
Same is the case with the persons with mental retardation. Individuals with locomotor disabilities make up the largest group by disability category across rural and urban areas averaging about 53%, while individuals with mental retardation constitute the smallest category at 4%. It is because physical impairments are largely visible and thus identified in large numbers, whereas less visible conditions like mental illness, learning disabilities etc tend to get overlooked. Moreover, deep rooted negative attitudes and the social stigma attached mainly with persons with mental retardation, make people unwilling to admit to having a family member with a disability. The adoption of medical model definition of disability is the main reason behind the development of such negative attitudes that focus more on impairment and ‘disablement’ approach.
This negative attitude which is a result of medical model also contributes to the exclusion of the girls with disability from the count. For instance, the perception of women as a burden in a patriarchal society exacerbates the situation of women with disability as they get double discriminated. The families of such girls with disability often prefer to hide the disability of their daughters out of shame. A large number of such girls remain invisible because of the social stigma attached to them.
In India, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which is responsible for people with disabilities, has a medically inspired classification system. Even the NSSO has embraced the medical approach in its definition of disability.
This labeling process has raised a contradictory situation, where on one side, Indian government made efforts to adopt inclusive approach that requires shift from medical model to human rights model and integration of marginalized groups within the general population and on the other side, the identification process suffers from label-based segregation (categorizing disabled groups).
The need is to undertake an identification process that is based on the social model definition rather than the medical model.. It is important to be aware of the extent to which cultural context can influence the data collection. It is important to transfer the attention from the impairment experience of the persons with disabilities to their handicapping environment. Scholars have suggested that the identification process needs to move away from ‘percentages of impairment’ and instead recognize the influence of personal, social, and environmental factors on people with disabilities (Jha, 2004).
Government’s Recent Inclusive Education Policies
As a response to the limitations of the earlier efforts, the Government of India has introduced two new policies on the education of people with disabilities. To what extent these recent policies respond to the shortcomings of the earlier efforts and the lacunae identified in the Census? This section attempts to answer this question.
The directives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have resulted in two government policies on disability- The Action Plan for Inclusion in Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities (IECYD) in 2005 under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities in 2006 under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE).
The Action plan for Inclusion in Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities (IECYD) 2005
Unlike the earlier scheme of IEDC that stressed to place the children with disabilities in the regular schools without making any changes in the school to accommodate, the revised IECYD, in contrast, stresses to modify the existing physical infrastructure and teaching methodologies to meet the needs of all children, including children with special needs (MHRD, 2005). In this way it clears the confusion with the concept of inclusive education. It also promises to provide in-service and pre-service training to regular education teachers on disability and inclusive education through collaboration with the Rehabilitation Council and the National Council for Teachers’ Education as well as to pre-school (aganwadis) workers in the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme.
The Action Plan (under the Ministry of Human Resource Development) preceded the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities 2006 and it provided many implementation strategies that are implicit in the policy. Both the ministries have same objectives, where one has framed it in its action plan and other in its vision.
The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, 2006
There was a growing realization that the quality of lives of persons with disabilities can be raised by providing them opportunities and appropriate facilities. The persons with disability have equal rights with other members of the society to enjoy the fruits of development. The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities announced by the Government of India in 2006 reflects the new emphasis of bringing persons with disabilities into the mainstream of society. The policy seems to adopt the social model of disability. It recognizes that “persons with disabilities are valuable human resource for the country”. It seeks to create an environment that provides them equal opportunities, protection of their rights and full participation in society. The policy also stresses on the special needs of women and children with disabilities, importance of creating barrier-free environment and social security, and the important role that can be played by the NGOs in services to the persons with disabilities. However although it mentions about specific programmes for women, there are none that proactively target girls with disabilities, particularly in the context of health and social attitudes (Kalyanpur, 2008). The National Policy emphasizes the need for mainstreaming of the persons with disabilities in the general education system through Inclusive Education.
These policies show that although the government has responded to the earlier shortcomings especially in the sense of considering the human rights issue of the persons with disability, it is still not satisfactory as many of the promises are only in policy documents but the real implementation is poor. The policies fail to address the bigger issues of inaccurate identification measures, inadequate infrastructure and facilities, teacher shortage and training, quality of education in the non-formal and vocational centres, flexible service provisions for children with disabilities in regular schools, gender disparities and negative attitude of stakeholders.
Reality of Mainstreaming
The National Policy mandates to include the persons with disabilities in the general education system but has not defined what is meant by this general education system. Is it mainstreaming in regular schools or the same type of education that can be given in special schools also. Despite the promotion of inclusive education, the government documents focus on inclusive education as being about including the children with disabilities in the education system, but not specifically the mainstream (Singal, 2005). However, inclusion in the education system is not same as inclusion in mainstream or regular schools. If attending mainstream school is the ‘norm’, then being out of these schools can exacerbate the difference and marginalize vulnerable children further.
There is the practice of selective inclusion of the children with disabilities in the mainstream especially in the private schools. Singal (2003) pointed out in his study that the type and extent of disability had a key role to play in the decision to include certain children or not, in the mainstream. Children who look too physically different or who have some mental illness or low IQ are not included in the mainstream and their entry remains barred. The schools are just meeting the formality of mainstreaming because of the government’s pressure, pressures from upper class parents for their own children with disabilities to be educated in the regular schools and because the schools want to prove themselves innovative in a highly competitive market.
Other reasons that act as a barrier for mainstreaming is the exam oriented curriculum where every teacher, for their own motivation, wants their students to show exceptional performance in the exams. The attitudes of the parents of non-disabled children also pose hindrance for inclusion in regular schools as they didn’t accept that children with disabilities should be in the same class as their non-disabled child. Sometimes the parents of the children with disabilities themselves prefer alternative schooling for their disabled child for the reasons such as-to gain vocational skill, to gain the benefit of medical rehabilitation, or simply to avoid bullying in regular schools. It is not necessary that the alternative educational institutions are always of sub-standard. They may offer higher quality teaching and learning processes than any regular local government school. The special education is considered superior in India due to its preferred status. (Mukopadhyaya and Mani, 2002). But the importance of mainstream in regular schools lies in the fact that special schools have limited coverage mainly in the urban areas. Therefore, mainstreaming is a best option for all the children with disabilities in the rural areas.
Moreover, government policy focuses only on resources and physical access to regular schools or infrastructure rather than access to flexible curriculum, and pedagogy. The policy fails to consider what happens in the regular classroom and how the children with disabilities that are included in the mainstream are provided flexible school environment and services ranging from curriculum to pedagogy and assessment.
The Inclusive Education Policies in India need to be reformed in several ways. Though these efforts have given a good beginning to the inclusive education, a lot has to be done for its proper functioning. The policy need to deal with the problems of fragmented and sporadic implementation, inadequate resources and dissemination, selective inclusion in regular schools and the most important to correct the defective identification process that is based on labeling. Policy makers need to consider these issues and constraints in interpretation and implementation of inclusive education in order to bring a revised policy that can enforce the better implementation of inclusive education. This section will explore the policy implications so that the Inclusive Education could benefit the Indian Education System.
Label free Policy and Survey
The children identified in the policies or surveys are identified as ‘disabled’ or ‘SEN learners’. These labels in the policy show that policy itself is reinforcing segregation by means of language that is declaring the children with disabilities as ‘disabled’ and is categorizing learners based on individual characteristics. Policies that don’t require labeling of students in order to identify need for services should be considered preferable. Identification and placement of students should be based on needs for services and not on the category of Special Education Needs.
Access and Participation
Access should not be limited to only physical access (building) but also with the academic/program access (to curriculum and instruction through adaptations and support), social access (to peers), and economic access (to affordable schooling). Physical access to school doesnot ensures meaningful participation. For participation to be meaningful (lead to positive learning outcomes), factors such as school climate that values diversity, a safe and supportive environment, and positive attitudes are essential components of participation. Though physical access is a pre-requisite, government should not be focused on only physical access of children with disabilities but should also address various barriers that make school practically inaccessible. For example, the language and format of instructions are the part and parcel of access. Sign language for the deaf, Braille reading or large print text books for the blind students, alternative format for the assessment (e.g. oral examinations), and technology support/virtual environment (e.g. computers and educational softwares) are all examples of flexible curriculum and instructions that need to be there for real access and participation of children with disabilities.
Assessment and Evaluation
Assessment of the students is one of the most significant challenges for IE/EFA. Many researches have shown that when the students with SEN given the appropriate support and adapted curriculum, they can do as well or even better than their peer. In India, there is a lack of expertise in conducting assessments. There is a heavy reliance on standardized test scores as outcome measures of success at the school level. There is a strong need to develop policies that allocate resources (economic and technical) to schools for training in evaluation and assessment that measures academic as well as social outcomes.
Attitude constitutes a big challenge before Inclusive Education in India. The societal attitudes or cultural constructs cannot be ignored when looking at the policy implications because attitudes are largely responsible for the poor and improper implementation of IE policy. Negative attitude towards the children with disabilities especially towards the children with mental retardation is one of the main causes of unsuccessful implementation. There is need for bringing attitudinal changes among all stakeholders ranging from government officials to teachers as well as parents and the other community members. The underlying principle is that acceptance is a pre-requisite to involvement. There is a suggestion that attitudinal change should be considered as an integral part of any inclusive education programme or plan. Without the changes in the attitude towards the people with disabilities, all efforts to bring successful implementation will go in vain. Bringing positive attitude towards disability is not a one day task, but gradual and continuous efforts like successful dissemination of public awareness programs (e.g. media coverage and publications etc) can bring some positive changes in attitudes. Community elders and religious institutions can play a vital role in drive towards radical change in attitudes. It is also equally important to aware the general public about the myths related with disability.
Pre-service Training and In-service Professional Development
Though, the Action plan for Inclusion in Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities 2005 stresses on the pre-service and in-service training of the general as well as special teachers, there is still a big gap between the pre-service training and in-service professional development that acts as a barrier to teach a diverse range of learners. Policies that would encourage building bridges between pre-service and in-service training through school-university collaboration is required for enskilling teachers to promote Inclusive Education. Teachers should be given training to learn curriculum development strategies, facilitate flexible structure, provide alternative/multiple assessment, and address cultural/linguistic diversity of learners.
India, being the largest democracy in the world, needs to be highly focused with the issues and constraints of Inclusive Education so that all the marginalized children may be able to fulfill their rights as citizens. Government need to think that despite best intentions to promote inclusive education, why the result is still exclusion. The issues like socio-economic constraints, attitudes, curriculum, environment, language and communication, governance and human resource development should be given their due attention for enforcing better implementation.
There is also a need of proper accountability mechanisms to check the policy implementation. Some kind of legal enforcement mechanisms need to be created (Alur, 2002). There should be a network of regular monitoring and evaluation by external evaluators (to avoid report corruption) in order to ascertain whether the policy is indeed being implemented. Government officials should be trained at all levels for managing monitoring and evaluation systems and enforcing accountability as well as for conceptual awareness of inclusive education and disability.
The survey findings show that about 2.5-6% of the population is having disabilities, where about 98% of children with disabilities are not attending any type of educational institutions. The availability of the service provisions for these children (special or mainstream, government or NGO) is not in proportion to their number (as shown in survey findings).
If India has to meet the EFA goals and the collective MDGs within a specified timeframe, there should be a strong commitment by the government as well as all stakeholders to provide support to Inclusive Education. Lessons must be learnt from the shortcomings of the earlier efforts for inclusive education and the necessary steps must be taken to embrace inclusive education that can result in the poverty reduction in the country.
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