Disability News and Information Service (); New Delhi; April 2005
“It should, and will be our objective, to make mainstream education not just available but accessible, affordable and appropriate for students with disabilities,” promises Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh.
In a comprehensive ‘Action Plan for the Inclusive Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities’ formulated by his Ministry, HRD Minister Arjun Singh has committed that the government will provide education through mainstream schools for children with disabilities, in accordance with the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. Singh revealed this ambitious plan on 21st March in the Rajya Sabha.
Some of the main objectives of the Action Plan are:
…no child is denied admission in mainstream education;
…no child would be turned back on grounds of disability;
…mainstream and specialist training institutions… facilitate the growth of a cadre of teachers trained to work with the principles of inclusion;
…facilitate access of girls with disabilities and disabled students from rural and remote to government hostels;
…provide for home-based learning for persons with severe, multiple and intellectual disability;
…emphasise job training and job-oriented vocational training;
…promote an understanding of the paradigm shift from charity to development through a massive awareness, motivation and sensitisation campaign;
…modify existing physical infrastructure and teaching methodologies to meet the needs of all children including children with special needs;
…all universities will have a Disability Coordinator to act as a ‘one-stop shop’ to assist disabled students in their needs;
… all universities will be assisted by U.G.C. in setting up a separate Department of Disability Studies including modules of inclusion;
…a Chair of Disability Studies will be set up in Central Universities;
…universities will be encouraged to introduce Special Shuttle Services for disabled students.
Under this plan, the first level of intervention will be through the Integrated Child Development Services (I.C.D.S.) Programme. This reaches out to all children aged zero to 6 years, and anganwadi workers are trained to detect disabilities at an early stage. I.C.D.S. workers will also be trained to motivate parents of children with disabilities.
The plan envisages that all disabled children will be part of mainstream schools, which will be fully equipped to cater to their needs by 2020. Singh’s Action Plan also includes provisions for barrier-free access, Braille books, Talking Text Books, Reading Machines and computers with speech software. In addition, every school will have adequate number of sign language interpreters, transcription services and a loop induction system for the hearing impaired students. The idea is to ensure that every child has access to mainstream education and no child is turned down on grounds of disability.
Singh stated that N.C.E.R.T. has set up a group under the National Curriculum Framework Review to examine the requirements to educate children with special needs. To ensure sensitisation of teachers to the requirements of disabled students regular in-service training will be provided. A disability element in the syllabus of B.Ed. and M.Ed. courses will be strengthened. A MoU has also been signed between the National Council for Teachers’ Education and the Rehabilitation Council of India to ensure that all teachers and other resource persons will be able to address the diversity of children in the classroom to ensure enrolment and retention.
Taking into account the special transportation needs of disabled college students, Universities will be encouraged to introduce Special Shuttle Services for disabled students. The Minister added that selected schools will be converted into Model Inclusive Schools in order to demonstrate "what is necessary and more importantly, what is possible”.
As for higher education, all universities will have a Disability Coordinator to act as a ‘one-stop shop’ for disabled students and assist them in their needs. All universities will be assisted by U.G.C. in setting up a separate Department of Disability Studies including modules on inclusion. The Minister also mentioned a proposal to set up a Chair of Disability Studies in Central Universities.
In August 2004, N.C.P.E.D.P.’s ‘Research Study on Present Education Scenario’ revealed that only 0.1% disabled students are in mainstream educational institutions at the university level and 0.51% at the school level. It was pointed out in the Study that mere reservations will not help. A disabled-friendly environment in educational institutions is crucial for disabled students to not only get admission but sustain their studies in schools/colleges across India. Taking serious note of the findings the Minister had set up a meeting under his Chairmanship; he then constituted a committee which included senior officials from the H.R.D. Ministry as well as the Social Justice Ministry. Javed Abidi, N.C.P.E.D.P.’s Executive Director, represented the disability sector in this Committee.