Feature

Volume 9 Issue 1 - March 15, 2012

Home-based Education: A Right for Children with Severe and Multiple Disabilities?

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is a landmark legislation in the history of the Nation that makes elementary education a fundamental right for children between the ages of 6-14. But millions of children with disabilities got left out in the Act. Amendments to this law are due to be presented to the Parliament in a supposed attempt to correct this huge oversight. But rather than taking a progressive step towards inclusion, the proposed Amendments seem to be itching towards legalising exclusion of children with severe and profound disabilities. Aarth-Astha, an organisation working on the issue, writes as to why we are on the verge of making another Himalayan blunder.

In 2002, elementary education was made a fundamental right in our country. The right to free and compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 to 14 is a fundamental right inscribed under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India which says, “The States shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen (6-14) years in the manner as the State may by Law, determine.”

There are three main features of the Fundamental Right to Education in India.

  • All children between the age of 6 and 14 years shall receive free and compulsory education.
  • The Government of India and the State Governments will ensure availability of schools with appropriate facilities necessary to impart education in all parts of the country.
  • All parents must send their children between the ages of 6 and 14 years to school.

Children with disabilities, including children with very high support needs, are equal holders of this fundamental right. Yet today, through the proposed Amendments to the Right to Education (R.T.E.) Act, 2009, this fundamental right of the child is being watered down and instead of a school, home is being offered as a legitimate, alternative option for the education of a child with high support needs.

On the basis of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee and views of the Department of School Education and Literacy, the following Amendment is proposed as provision to Sub-section 3 of Section 3 of the R.T.E. Act, to enhance the coverage of children with disabilities under the Act:

“Provided that a child with multiple disabilities referred to in Clause (h) of Section 2 of the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999 and a child with severe disability referred to in Clause (o) of Section 2 of the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999 may also have the right to opt for home-based education”. (Ref: Brief background note on Inclusive Education under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (S.S.A.), a paper presented by Ministry of Human Resource Development in the 2nd Meeting of the Working group on Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities for the 12th Plan, May 19, 2011).

We believe that this would be a violation of the right of the child to legitimate quality education. We urge the Government of India, the Ministry of Human Resource Development and members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development to re- assess the proposed Amendment in the light of the human rights of the child rather than the requirements of an educational system that is unable to make legitimate space for the child.

The History:

In 2009, the Government of India passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 or the R.T.E. Act. This is the Act that translates the vision of the fundamental right to education into reality. The R.T.E. Act did not include children with disabilities specifically in the disadvantaged groups, even though national studies show that children with disabilities are the largest group of out of school children. It is also well known that children with disabilities are over represented amongst the poorest of the poor in any country.

After protests from the disability sector, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh gave an assurance that the Act will be amended to include children with disabilities in the disadvantaged groups.

The 2010 R.T.E. Amendment Bill:

  • Defines a child with disabilities and makes a specific mention of a child with severe disability under the National Trust Act, 1999, in the definition of the child.
  • Includes children with disabilities in the definition of the ‘disadvantaged’ groups.

More recently we have heard that there is another Amendment to the R.T.E. Act. We believe this comes as a result of a recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development which considered the Amendments to the R.T.E. Act and have presented a report on June 2010.

This report gives some very important and forward looking recommendations to the R.T.E. Act in relation to children with disabilities. However, it also unfortunately takes a stand on the issue of compulsory education for children with severe and multiple disabilities.

It says, “Another issue before the Committee was the aspect of compulsory education for children with severe or multiple disabilities who may not be in a position to attend school. The Committee understands that children with multiple disabilities need to be part of the compulsory education process. However, there may be cases where a view needs to be taken about the viability of invoking the component of compulsory education in schools. In this connection, the Committee would like to point out that under S.S.A., 75,099 children with multiple disabilities are being provided education in regular schools. This has been made possible by these children being first provided some school preparation programmes before being mainstreamed in regular schools. The Committee understands that the strategy of home-based education under S.S.A. is at present being evaluated. The Committee is of the view that this strategy needs to be vigorously pursued for children in the 0-6 years age group for Early Intervention and School Readiness followed by their induction in the mainstream schools. The Committee, therefore, believes that elementary education should not be made compulsory for children with severe or multiple disabilities and the relevant provision in the Act may accordingly be modified.” (Para 4.12)

As a result of this recommendation we believe a new Amendment has now been added to the Act. This amendment gives children with severe and multiple disabilities the choice of school or home-based education.

What is home-based education?

The practice of home-based education was initiated by the S.S.A. as a ‘pathway to inclusion’. S.S.A. adopted a ‘zero rejection policy for all children’. In order to fulfil this zero rejection policy it follows a ‘multi- option model’ for children with disabilities.

As per a July 2006 report called ‘Discovering New Paths to Inclusion – A Documentation of Home-based Practices for C.W.S.N’, this means that “no child having special needs should be deprived of the right to education and taught in an environment, which is best, suited to her/his learning needs. These include special schools, E.G.S., A.I.E. or even home-based education.”

“Generally home-based education is defined as the education of children with severe intellectual/physical disabilities, who can be educated in the combination of home-based and alternate educational settings to enable them to achieve independent living skills. Home-based education aims at school preparedness and preparation for life. Alternate educational settings provide opportunities for learning of social skills, vocational skills and implementation of life skills.”

It felt that “experiences of programmes like D.P.E.P. and various research findings have shown that inclusion is best determined by the individual needs of the child. Most children with special needs can be enrolled and retained in regular schools if adequate resource support is provided to them, whereas there are others who might have to be provided some kind of pre-integration programmes, before they can be mainstreamed in a classroom. There might also be still some C.W.S.N. with severe profound disabilities, who would require an educational programme and intensive specialised support completely beyond the purview and scope of a formal school in the current situation.”

It is these children who have been the recipients of home-based education under the S.S.A. since the early 20th century in our country.

The S.S.A. document ‘Discovering New Paths to Inclusion – A Documentation of Home-based Practices for C.W.S.N’ says: Recent surveys and studies have also shown that a large proportion of C.W.S.N. are out-of-school, owing to the severe nature of their disabilities, which at this point in time might not be accommodated in a regular classroom setting. There are children who, at some point in their lives, may need a special education programme that is completely outside the purview of the regular classroom. Here are the reasons:

  • Some disabled children need highly specialised skills taught by specially trained teachers.
  • Some disabled children might never respond to the demands of an academic curriculum and will require alternatives.
  • Some disabled children could participate in an academic curriculum but would require an inordinate amount of time and attention from a regular class teacher, such that it would be inequitable for the other children in the class.
  • Some disabled children need the support of a peer group that is more like they are, rather than being pushed out into the ‘mainstream’.
  • Some disabled children might experience school failure without a special education curriculum tailored to their needs.
  • Some disabled children have greater opportunities to success in an alternative setting because there is a greater emphasis on parental partnerships, parental cooperation, and active parental participation in the education of the child.
  • Some disabled children might not succeed in a regular classroom, as they might not respond to a standardised curriculum.

While it has meant many things, home-based education as it has been practised in India, has never meant a child getting educational inputs five days a week along with all the other entitlements that children in schools have. For example, in most instances the child in home-based education has not had the privilege of the legal entitlement of the midday meal.

This programme, just as the S.S.A., has never kept any record of children with disabilities dropping out and it has never reported on the number of children with severe and profound disabilities who have been mainstreamed after being in home-based education.

Is Home-based education in the best interest of the Child?

While the Government of India seems to feel that home-based education is a legal option for elementary education and is in the best interest of the child, there are some of us who feel it is not. Our reasons are as follows:

  • Home-based habilitation strategies for children, support and information to parents, affirmative action for very young children with disabilities are extremely invaluable strategies. The strategy of home-based education can be used as an excellent strategy for building abilities for the child and the family. However, it should not become the only option for the education of the child, particularly a child with high support needs.
  • Such an option is likely to foster great social isolation, exclusion from community and peers and devalue the child. It is likely to exclude the child from many other entitlements and also expose the child to a lack of protection that social isolation brings. The quality of life of any child will be seriously compromised if we isolate them at home.
  • The label of severe and profound disability on a child is a deeply questionable practice in our country. Till today, we label children on the basis of medical parameters that have been questioned consistently.
  • The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (C.R.P.D.) that India has ratified talks of a social model of disability. We are aware today from our practices and from international understanding that a child may be unable to participate fully in education because of many reasons other than high levels of impairment. A girl child with disability will not have the same chances even of survival that a boy with disability has!
  • Today, many children labelled as having severe and profound disabilities, can with some support, study within the system even as it is today. If a legal option for home-based education is given to this child, many of them will be ‘pushed out’ of the system because of the inequitable relationship that parents and communities have with the education system. They will be ‘pushed out’ because our system has just begun to accept that children with disabilities will also be a part of it. If today we legitimise home-based education, we will roll back in time and just strengthen the ‘push out’ factors for all children who are vulnerable within the system.
  • Children with disabilities are the largest group of out of school children in our country today. It is true that the demand for their equitable and legitimate education has not risen even within communities and families in our country. We know that there are many families that still do not believe that their child is educable. Apart from our social attitudes, the truth is that our systems for early childhood care, education and protection and our rehabilitation systems have not reached out to these children and families. Our focus has to be on supporting the child and the family to get to school, not on leaving the child at home.
  • To argue that any child is so impaired that she/he cannot reach a school or participate in school life is to put the blame on the child. A child does not choose to be severely impaired or have H.I.V., or live on the streets. An inclusive system is one that is willing to stretch and bend for the child. This should not mean it is content with providing the lowest common denominator to any child.
  • It is true that inclusion is going to require a systemic change. We need changes in curriculum and the ways in which we transact this curriculum, teacher training and flexibility in administration. R.T.E. tells us how the fundamental right to education will be implemented in our country. We have seen that it has been able to make fundamental systemic changes in the education scenario of our country. It has put an end to non-formal education at the elementary level for all children. It has moved from the examination system to comprehensive and continuous evaluation. Then our question would be whether the fundamental systemic changes we envisage for children with severe disabilities is home-based education?
  • Many of us who have worked with children with very high support needs have run small centres and special schools. Many of these centres and schools have been non-formal in nature. While realising that this should not continue, such centres have proved that children with very high support needs can come out of their homes and develop their abilities and be a part of the society.
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the proposed Amendments to R.T.E. Act observed that there are very few children with multiple disabilities in the regular schools in our country. The question we need to ask here is why? Are children with multiple disabilities not in school because they cannot be in schools? Or is it that we have just not tried hard enough? Our understanding is that it is the latter. There has been no real ‘abhiyan’ to get children with severe and multiple disabilities into schools and to make schools more inclusive for them.
  • Our understanding of families is that most parents would want their children to go out of the house and be with other children and learn and be included. However, today many are unwilling to make the effort of sending their child to school because they fear for the lack of security and safety of their child. They fear that their child will learn nothing in the system as it is today. They fear the humiliation that both they and their child undergo once they touch the system. We need to change this rather than give an option of staying at home.

For these and many other reasons we urge the decision makers to re-evaluate the legal option of home-based education for children with severe and multiple disabilities in our country. We request that the fundamental right to education should not be watered down for one set of children just because they have high support needs.

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