Inclusive Education in India:
Interpretation, Implementation, and Issues
“Ignorance … is a guarantee of marginalisation.”
Lewin (2000: 23)
In a world where approximately 113 million children are not enrolled in primary school (DFID, 2001), Lewin (2000) highlights the potential for education to reverse the negative effects of social exclusion. There are an estimated 25 million children out of school in India (MHRD 2003 statistics, cited in World Bank, 2004), many of whom are marginalised by dimensions such as poverty, gender, disability, and caste. While many educational programmes have attempted to reach out to these previously excluded children, those with disabilities are often forgotten, emphasising their invisible status in a rigidly categorised society.
This paper, while limited by the lack of available empirical data and constraints of desk research, aims to present a case study of the current status of inclusive education in India with a focus on children with disabilities. It may prove useful for anyone wishing to undertake empirical research in this, until recently, neglected field, or simply needing to gain an overview of the educational situation in India today for children with disabilities. As a paper for the Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE) Pathways to Access series, it explores access issues faced by children with disabilities in the first three CREATE zones of exclusion – those without any basic education access, those who drop-out after entry, and those who are at risk from exclusion (see Appendix B). After exploring some general, conceptual questions concerning the relevance of disability and inclusive education in the context of EFA, the paper analyses the interpretation and implementation of inclusive education in India, alongside the issues and constraints faced by the stakeholders involved. This is followed by discussion of the implications these may have for the future of educational inclusion of all children, particularly those with disabilities, in the areas of government policy, school quality, attitudinal change and the potential for research. Due to word-length and data limitations, the paper was not able to explore in-depth some of the more pragmatic areas of inclusive education implementation, such as curriculum access, assessment methods, measuring achievement, and the learning environment.
The paper concludes that a twin-track approach to disability may assist not only in improving educational access for marginalised children, but also the reconceptualisation of inclusive education as a school quality issue to benefit all children. This could contribute in the long-term towards the achievement of Education For All and fulfillment of the Fundamental Right to Education enshrined in the Constitution of India in 2002.