As citizens, we look to you, Honourable Judges of the highest court of law in our land, to protect the rights of those who stand powerless, marginalised by society due to their class, caste, gender, disability or ethnic origins. In particular, we believe that sometimes only the Supreme Court can safeguard the right to life of citizens when every other avenue has failed to do so.
Respected Judges there was a recent observation by you that it is “impossible to think” that children, who have any kind of disability or are mentally challenged, can be imparted education in mainstream schools along with normal children and students with disabilities must be admitted to special schools.
We certainly do not doubt the wisdom or capacity of the judiciary, but before you take your final decisions I would like to request you to take note of the following crucial points:
- India ratified the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007. Article 24 of the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), states that the children with disabilities should not be discriminated against and they should be able to participate in the general education system.
- Goal 4 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), calls for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
- According to the Right to Education Act 25 percent of the seats in private schools should be reserved for poor and disadvantaged groups. If students with disabilities are placed in special schools they would not able to gain the benefits given to EWS quota.
- The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 also supports the objective of achieving full inclusion of disabled students. (Sections 16 & 17 of Chapter III of the Act)
With due honour, I would like to say that is a myth that ‘separate is better’. The unfortunate reality is that segregation only accentuates discrimination and compartmentalization. All this would create even more attitudinal barriers for children with disabilities. Every child has to be with other children of a similar age. Research shows that typical children and children with disabilities learn as much or more in inclusive classes.
Parents want that their children are accepted by their peers, have friends and lead “regular” lives. Inclusive settings can make this vision a reality for many children with disabilities where everyone is able to reflect the similarities and differences of people in the real world and learn to appreciate and respect diversity.
I would like to mention that children with disabilities will not always remain children. They have to move to higher education settings and then transition to the world of employment. They have the right to be independent and have a satisfying career when grown up. If we segregate them from the mainstream how would they be able to adjust in the outside world which is so big and full of uncertainties? On the other hand would the non-disabled population understand and welcome these youth with disabilities with mutual respect and equanimity? When education is more inclusive, so are concepts of civic participation, employment, and community life.
How inclusive education is set up and made successful is the lookout of the State. The State is responsible for making appropriate infrastructure and implementing what all Acts and Conventions have suggested and instructed. Certain actions not only have to be acknowledged but even put into force.
So I would like to request you to reconsider your observation. If you intend to make changes in the educational set up which will impact children with disabilities, then I would humbly request you to direct the State to reform the educational system as a whole. The implementation, evaluation and monitoring system needs a complete overhaul in our country. Government has to be made accountable for implementing anti-discrimination legislation, legal mandates for inclusion, and policies to remove barriers.
Placing the children in different setups is a short-term solution which has the risk of long-term negative implications.
Inclusive education can become a reality if we direct our energies towards the following:
- Ensuring that educators have the training, flexibility, and resources to teach students with diverse needs and learning styles.
- Ensuring that schools receive adequate and sustainable financial support so that all activities and services are fully inclusive.
- Enabling the whole community—including mainstream and special educators, social workers, parents, and students—to work together as a team in structuring, delivering, and monitoring, thereby reframing inclusive education as a shared responsibility.
- In addition to this if the government is prepared to invest substantial resources at the outset on system reforms such as teacher and staff training; improving infrastructure, learning materials, and equipment; and revising curricula to implement inclusive education successfully, it would be able to eliminate redundancy and the high costs of running parallel systems.
I am quite hopeful that if you give a little time to focus on the abovementioned aspects, you would be able to understand our viewpoint. Otherwise, we are apprehensive that separation and segregation of children with disabilities would permanently lead to their isolation and reduce them to disability labels instead of unique individuals.
all we want is to be a part, and not apart, as the slogan goes!
(Abha Khetarpal is the President of Cross the Hurdles who went to a mainstream school. She went on to become a counsellor for students with disabilities, with UCMS (University College of Medical Sciences)).