Interview

Volume 9 Issue 1 - March 15, 2012

“The proposal in the Amendment to the R.T.E. Act will certainly take us a few steps backwards,” Poonam Natarajan

Home-based education, which came up as an option when the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan started with inclusive education, was seen as a ‘pathway to inclusion’. However, it has become more of a mechanism to push children with disabilities who could very well be integrated into mainstream schools, into the home. Shilpi Ganguly of D.N.I.S. talks to Poonam Natarajan, Chairperson, National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities, about her reaction to the proposed Amendments to the R.T.E. Act, 2009.

D.N.I.S.: What is your reaction to the proposed Amendments to the R.T.E. Act, 2009, which offers home-based education as a legitimate, alternative option for education of children with severe or multiple disabilities?

Poonam Natarajan: Home-based education came up as an option when Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (S.S.A.) first started with Inclusive Education. It was also mentioned in the Comprehensive Action Plan for Inclusive Education of 2005. Since then some of us have been raising objections about it. However there were many people who felt that some disabilities will definitely need the option. For example, children with deaf-blindness, low functioning intellectual disability, autism and other multiple disabilities.

It was very heartening to work with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (M.H.R.D.), both in the Anil Bordia Committee for revamping S.S.A. to harmonise with R.T.E. Act, and the Implementation Framework. M.H.R.D. agreed that home-based education should be used for preparing a child for school and the child must attend the neighbourhood school.

In many states like Karnataka, home-based education has not been accepted as a strategy in the policy for children with special needs and also under S.S.A. It is used only as a preparation for schooling. In Himachal Pradesh, children being educated under home-based education are collected together in one centre.

So, though some practices of home-based education are becoming progressive, the proposal in the Amendment to the R.T.E. Act will certainly take us a few steps backwards. In Karnataka, a leading N.G.O. did a study on home-based education for one taluk and found that almost fifty percent of children in home-based education could easily go to mainstream schools. Therefore it should not become part of the law because then many children will be forced into this option even when they don’t need it.

Home-based education is not same as home schooling, which is popular among the elite in India. Home-based education does not allow a child to leave her/his home. Their world, therefore, becomes too narrow and deprived.

D.N.I.S.: Do you believe home-based education should be completely abolished in India? If so, why?

Poonam Natarajan: Actually, it is not very clear who makes a decision whether a child needs to be put into home-based education or sent to a regular school. I don’t think home-based education can be completely abolished in India. However, if it can be used as an option for preparing a child for getting ready for schooling, it may have some value.

D.N.I.S.: What steps should be taken to make education more inclusive in India and ensure that these measures are, in reality, implemented?

Poonam Natarajan: I would like to draw attention to the Implementation Framework of S.S.A., which I think is a progressive document and gives concrete steps towards inclusive education. This however needs to be implemented at the State level. It’s a mixed bag – some States are doing well in this area and some not at all.

D.N.I.S.: Do you think society/families are equally responsible for perpetuating the notion that children with severe disabilities need home-based education, or is it lack of adequate understanding within the Government?

Poonam Natarajan: I think it is basically the family, which does not even believe that their child with high support needs has a right to go to a mainstream school and this is because of the advice they get from doctors and other medical functionaries. We need to create enough awareness first. Also, most leaders in the community do not have complete understanding of disability and think that children with severe disability can never fit into a mainstream classroom.

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