There has been a constant attempt to make education an inclusive space in the country. Accommodating the different needs of different students, the space continues to face challenges through the active efforts of a few compassionate teachers.
One such teacher is Deepmala Pandey of the Dabhaura village of Bareilly, who brought together many teachers to identify students with special needs and create awareness in terms of enrolling and teaching them.
She has so far supported 800 specially-abled children to get into school and has trained above 350 teachers to be sensitive toward students' needs. Her movement gained national recognition after Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated her efforts through the Mann Ki Baat programme.
A Movement Building Towards A Larger Cause
"I started the movement of 'One teacher, one call' to motivate teachers to enrol at least one disabled child in a government school," said Deepmala in a recent interview for The Print.
It all began when Deepmala was transferred to the Dabhaura Primary School and met with Anmol, a student with learning disabilities. Unlike the other students she has dealt with, Anmol could not have been taught the same way. He had a speech disability and was not able to comprehend what the teachers were suggesting either. With a little patience and a lot of sign language symbols, she was able to adapt her teaching methods in a way that would suit Anmol the best.
A few years into training Anmol, the student was able to fare well in the classes and participate in multiple co-curricular activities that seemed impossible earlier. This was the story of just one student, and from there on, Deepmala has been able to bring together several specially abled children under her umbrella movement.
She launched the campaign the very year she met with Anmol and spread the word among many other teachers to sign up more students with special needs.
Enabler For A Government Policy In The Grassroots Level
At the national level, there have already been legislations and acts put in place to support children with learning difficulties and special needs. Under the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWD), provisions have been set up for such children to enrol in both regular and special schools. There are over 21 categories of recognised disabilities, but reaching out to them is not something many educators have been trained in.
Deepmala, who studied the RPWD Act, became more aware of the policies and their penetration at the grassroots level. She also came to realise that not many teachers in remote spaces understood the possibilities of such an act in creating an inclusive educational space. Her campaign then focused on building this awareness.
Teachers are essentially those who spearhead most of the educational policies made on the national level. Giving it the much-needed nudge, Deepmala started with a simple WhatsApp group with several teachers to keep them informed and updated. Pushing the idea of inclusive education, they actively discussed new teaching models that would make it possible for special-needs children to learn at the same desks as other students.
Since its launch, Deepmala structured a conversation that discussed disabled-friendly activities for young children around the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects. Different kinds of teaching aids were utilised and experimented with, from clay tablets, plastic glasses to straws.
An article by the Times Of India mentions how their focus was on brain development, and collaboratively, they reinvented the learning experience for primary school students.
One Teacher And One Call Is All It Takes
Working as a principal at a Government school, Deepmala always envisioned a forum that helped all children equally to achieve what they truly deserve.
However, this also meant stepping out of her comfort bubble. She had a secure government job, a set line of duties with a well-paying salary, after which she returned home to her family. Making a change that she wished to see in society meant stepping out of this pattern to do things that challenged even her capacities.
She decided to act upon it as it always bothered her to see the lack of ground-level work despite the abundance of social schemes and facilities. In the founder's note on her website, she mentions how it was never an easy journey but definitely one that was worth it. She had never-ending support from her colleagues and others who made the herculean task seem achievable.
Under her campaign, members were asked to call at least one other teacher and explain to them the importance of education for children with special needs.
One call was all it took for the teachers' community to spread the word regarding why disability should not mean any less of an opportunity like other children at the schools. They were enlightened about the Centre's Act which supports the mission and were conveyed that a little help and trust is all it takes for a special needs child to come forth in the mainstream.
In the world of digital marketing, she adapted her approaches to rural India and took her message to the crowds through word of mouth, a door-to-door approach, and one call from one teacher.
Also Read: Trendsetters! Six NGOs Working Towards Inclusion Of Disabled Children And Adults In India