“No two individuals are alike” – so true, but mostly forgotten. Until recently, we have all been trying to fit the child into the curriculum rather than making the curriculum suit the child’s needs. The words “inclusion” “integration” gives us that ray of hope. Each child brings with him/her different abilities, challenges and self esteem issues.
I firmly believe that we can’t undo “nature”, but definitely “nurture” is something we all can work towards and make a positive impact on the child and learning in a big way. It seems like a straight forward process, but can be very complicated with different viewpoints. Some believe it is too idealistic a concept, while others see it as a basic human right. In between the two extremes are those that believe inclusion and exclusion are complimentary. Hence, there are no simple answers to inclusion.
Inclusive education, additional learning support or Special Education Needs in layman’s term is the education of students who are differently abled that takes into consideration the child’s particular needs and understanding their limitations. Having worked abroad and in India I feel a difference in mindset and attitudes towards differently abled. Even though inclusive education or special education needs is gaining momentum in India, but we are still in a nascent stage compared to countries in Europe and America. Though there are a lot of initiatives taken by the government like RTE (right to education act), India’s Disability Act (1995) and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which states that no school can deny the right to education to any child regardless of the disability.
However, the reality is different. The reason being the attitudes of some people involved here which no law can change. The whole outlook needs to change. Awareness, lack of resources, trained staff and teachers add to the situation. Moreover, Special education needs is still considered a taboo in society and even the educated lot still find it difficult to accept this. They associate it with “abnormality or “retardation”. Often I have to take the parents through the DABDA (Denial, Anger, Bargain, Despair and Acceptance) process with hours of counselling until they finally accept the child with his/her limitations in terms of academic progress and “grades. It is the survival of the fittest and they find it difficult to accept that their child is falling out. It is sad because children with needs have their brains wired differently and hence, with sensitivity, nurture, love, acceptability and positive environment can do wonders to their self esteem and learning which need not be academic only.
On the other hand, the anxiety of parents and caregivers is also right from their perspective. Worries about the future of their children, lack of social security system, support from the government, society pressures add to their woes. Even if the parents want to accept the condition and introduce their children to the society as a child first it is not as easy as it sounds. Given the biases and prejudices, this not only poses huge visible, but also invisible social barriers, but it is easy to allow them and their child to feel an equal part of the social fibre. Stepping out of the house with the child and trying to keep away from the disability and looking at the beautiful world as a facilitator to their development and growth comes at a price. The impediments are far deeper and greater in the external environment, than those faced by the child’s condition. Some of the comments I have heard from parents from the overtly concerned members of society are:
“ Is he/she like this from birth?” “What is her problem?”
“Oh… is she special needs?” “Very sorry to see this.”
“Must be very difficult for you. How do you manage? Are your other children okay. It’s all karmas.”
“Does he go to school”. Is he/she going to be okay?
“Why is he/she flapping hands”
“Does anyone in the family have it? Is it contagious?”
Many a times there is lack of family support too with the blame game going between the parents for having a child with disability. It is kept as a very hushed matter lest they are judged for bad parenting and not pushing the child enough. The situation is not very welcoming in the educational system too, where the children often get labelled as ‘naughty’, ‘lazy’, ‘hopeless’ adding to the anxiety of the parents who run from pillar to post for their children. Even if the child gets into a school with good inclusive programme, parents are often worried about they being discovered as special needs or other parents knowing about them going for a remedial class.
However, there is a rising trend of inclusive education in the private schools in metropolitan areas, like Delhi and Mumbai along with NGO’s , vocational programmes, open schools, international schools following the IB curriculum, which gives a ray of hope and direction to the parents. Separate departments as SEN or Inclusive Education are set up with the aim of providing an inclusive environment for learning to students with mild to moderate learning disabilities and to those needing social and behavioural counselling. It acts as a full-fledged support system, catering to the needs of students who are ‘slow’ learners, and students diagnosed with Learning Disabilities such as ADHD, ADD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia . In many set ups there is a special education wing running a parallel curriculum for the moderate to severe categories and children are integrated for a minimum of 1-3 hours on a daily basis.
The support happens in various phases that include in-class support, remedial and preparation for exams. Whereas in-class support helps to deal with the curriculum demands of the class, the remedial classes focus on reinforcing concepts, developing language skills (reading and writing), memory skills, mathematical concepts, study skills, science concepts and organisational skills. Students are regularly counselled, motivated and encouraged to perform better. Different strategies and techniques are used keeping in mind both the student’s strengths and weaknesses. The strategies are both child centred and child friendly.
Having said this, just being physically present in the mainstream environment does not convey anything about inclusion until the children are accepted by the pupils and the staff. This calls for social inclusion by parents, friends and society. Policies should reflect the commitment and ethos in environment, curriculum flexibility and adaptability, differential teaching and open communication along with understanding and open mindedness. There is still room for some innovative thinking and collaborative learning around inclusion in the classroom. It may be that schools and society will need to re-evaluate assumptions about particular behaviour of learners, for example, a student who likes to talk while working is a helpful automatic self-expression.
One such experience that I would really like to share is a short piece of conversation while working with a differently – abled child.
Colleague: “Ms. whenever you find the time please meet me.”
Me: “ Sure”.
Child “ Ms. I can really help you”.
Amazed I asked “Go ahead”.
Child: “I can help you find the time. There it is”! (Pointing to the clock on the wall).
The look in the child’s eyes can however, not be explained in words.
We can look at this behaviour as “intentional” or “being funny” or “disrespectful” and the list is endless, but we need to wait and understand what is Autism or ASD before we jump to conclusions. All it requires is a little sensitivity, acceptance, understanding, willingness and change of mindset.
Undoubtedly, this is easier said than done, however, not impossible. Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it.
Ms Sonu Khosla @sonukhosla15 is a developmental psychologist with extensive experience of working with children with SEN. Currently Head of SEN at Pathways School in Noida, India, she has also conducted training modules and workshops for companies and educational organisations in the Netherlands at Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam. Worked on research projects for Centre for micro-nutrient research in association with Johns Hopkins Institute, Baltimore, USA.