Feature

Volume 3 Issue 13 - July 01, 2005

Zonal Consultation to operationalise Comprehensive Plan of Action for Inclusive Education

Parvinder Singh examines the recent developments on inclusive education front and reports on the Zonal consultation held in Mumbai on 25 June to opertationalise the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Inclusive Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities announced by Arjun Singh.

Zonal Consultative meet on Inclusive Education underway in Mumbai

“The best education process is the one that is based on shared ideals and is acceptable to the largest number of people,” Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh said while addressing the 51st meeting of the National Development Council. “There can be no monopoly and no single individual or group can claim to have exclusive monopoly over how the education process in a country like India should be carried out,” Singh added.

This is nothing short of music to the ears of the disability sector that has been fighting a battle for ending segregation in the name of special education that allowed successive governments to shrug away from responsibility of allowing a large section of society a stake in the task of nation building.

In fact, the nation is currently poised at crossroads, so far as the Inclusive Education is concerned. On the one hand is a promising plan, ‘Comprehensive Plan of Action for Inclusive Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities,’ tabled by Arjun Singh in the Rajya Sabha on 21 March 2005. On the other hand is the challenge of operationalising the plan, a task that needs active participation of stakeholders, experts and individuals.

The Disability Act 1995 clearly states that disabled children have the right to education. It promotes inclusive education, and also provided three per cent reservation for disabled people in Government/Government-aided educational institutions. It mandates other facilities, including barrier-free environment, modification of curriculum, transport facilities, etc. to ensure that disabled children could access education.

However, past governments did not take the issue seriously and education for the disabled continued to languish under the Ministry of Social Justice and was treated as a welfare issue. Hence, Arjun Singh’s plan of action came at an opportune moment and was welcomed by everyone.

Before moving on to a brief discussion on the comprehensive plan, it is worthwhile to look at the current scenario of education for persons with disability. In 2003, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) did a pioneering countrywide survey of universities and colleges. It was an eye opener and highlighted the pathetic state of access for students with disability. It showed that though there exists three per cent reservation for students with disabilities, less than one per cent availed the reservation. UGC Chairman adressing the meet

The one per cent who did take admission had to face enormous hurdles due to lack of access. The visually impaired students had to suffice with scarce Braille books, no access to computers, paying for scribes and find their way to classrooms located at higher floors.

Some of the main objectives of the action plan tabled by Arjun Singh which states very clearly that education system will have to be made disabled friendly by 2020 are:

No child be denied admission in mainstream education; no child be turned back on grounds of disability; mainstream and specialised training institutions; facilitating the growth of a cadre of teachers trained to work with the principles of inclusion; facilitating access of girls with disabilities and disabled students from rural and remote to government hostels; providing home-based learning for persons with severe, multiple and intellectual disability; emphasises on job training and job-oriented vocational training.

Promoting an understanding of the paradigm shift from charity to development through a massive awareness, motivating and sensitising; modifying existing physical infrastructure and teaching methodologies to meet the needs of all children including children with special needs; all universities to have a Disability Coordinator to act as a ‘one-stop shop’ to assist disabled students in their needs; all universities to be assisted by University Grants Commission (U.G.C.) in setting up a separate Department of Disability Studies including modules of inclusion; a Chair of Disability Studies to be set up in Central Universities; universities to be encouraged to introduce Special Shuttle Services for disabled students.

The plan itself, however, is not enough and would require a roadmap for its implementation. In this direction, a Zonal Consultative Meeting in Mumbai on 25 June, involving heads of apex educational institutions and representatives of the disability sector, arrived at a preliminary roadmap.

The daylong meeting was organised by N.C.P.E.D.P in association with National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped (N.A.S.E.O.H), the first of the three slated for different regions of the country to seek an extensive set of opinions. It deliberated on recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan for Inclusive Education.

Participants catching up on days proceedings

The meeting saw the unveiling of the Plan by Keshav Desiraju, Joint Secretary, Secondary Education. The other prominent speakers from the apex educational bodies were Prof. V. N. Rajshekharan Pillai, Vice Chairman University Grants Commission (U.G.C.), Prof. M. Mukhopadhyaya, Director, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (N.I.E.P.A.), C. K. Mathew, Principal Secretary, School and Sanskrit Education, Rajasthan and H. P. Shyamala, Deputy Commissioner, Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti.

From the disability sector a large number of participants representing different disabilities from the West Zone expressed their opinions about the Plan and suggested ways for firming it up.

Keshav Desiraju said that it was for the first time that the Minister in charge of Education spoke at length on the education of disabled. The Consultation will help to gain from the concerned sector, specific wisdom of a wide section of representatives of the disability sector brought together by the meeting. He urged the participants to come up with pointed and specific suggestions like the structure and monitoring that would constitute the road map to turn the plan into a reality.

Javed Abidi, Executive Director, N.C.P.E.D.P., said education being the bedrock of a person’s life and future, must be available to persons with disabilities. He asserted that all that was needed today was an iron will on the part of the government to crack the whip that the mandate was followed.

Smt. Poonam Natrajan, Director of Chennai based Vidya Sagar, said the issue of access in the plan must be discussed to its very final details. She stressed that the access should; in fact, include the aspect of access to information for persons with persons with visual and hearing disabilities. She shared her experience of a model inclusive school set up by her organisation near Madurai, demonstrates that teacher training, modified classroom teaching practices, flexible curriculum have enabled students with severe multiple disabilities to study in a mainstream environment. This successful model can be replicated in other parts of the country.

The preliminary roadmap will evolve further in its finer details in two more meetings to follow in Chennai and Kolkata followed by a National Seminar in New Delhi where it will be presented in the final shape. In the coming days and weeks the disability sector is hoping for a major policy victory for greater access and equity in education for persons with disabilities.

Note: The South Zone Consultation meeting is scheduled for 9 July 2005 in Chennai. Those interested in participating are most welcome to register themselves. Please write to education@ncpedp.org for Registration forms.

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