Show us the money

Dr. Mithu Alur

Tuesday, March 21, 2006  22:38 IST

Children with special needs have suffered years of institutionalised discrimination in India with an apathetic and indifferent political system. Even in the 21st Century while the whole world has gone ahead with reforming their systems to include children with disability into the regular educational systems, India still lags behind. Again, whilst India has signed International declarations such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has not been able to put policy into practice. Recently, promises made in Parliament have not been kept. Today, due to the government’s ambiguity and confusion over this issue, a staggering 98 per cent of India’s disabled people do not receive any care from the government.

Yet, historically, we find that as far back as 1944, John Sargent, an eminent British education commissioner, recommended that disabled children should be educated within the national system of education, and that it should be administered by the education department. After Indian independence we find that even the Kothari Commission (amongst the most visionary of such education Commissions) brought up the issue of children with disabilities and strongly recommended including such children in ordinary schools. However, successive governments did not fully comply with these recommendations.

The objective of the Ministry of Welfare became to ‘rehabilitate’ rather than to ‘educate’. The ministry till today does not have education as part of its agenda.

However, in 1995 the government passed a landmark legislation, called ‘The Persons with Disabilities Act’. Chapter V of the Act (on education) stipulates that the government will ensure that “every child with a disability has access to free education in an appropriate environment till he attains the age of eighteen years.”

It adds that “the appropriate governments and the local authorities shall endeavour to promote the integration of students with disabilities in the normal schools”.

Ten years later, in March 2005, HRD Minister Arjun Singh made a comprehensive statement in Parliament and said that there would be “zero rejection” of children with special needs in mainstream education. There was much jubilation in the field at his declaration that “It should and will be our objective to make mainstream education not just available but accessible, affordable and appropriate for students with disabilities…”

After the statement several national level consultations were held across the country and an Action Plan drawn up and given to the HRD ministry. Unfortunately the ministry seems to have not been able to put their act together and has not worked out the financial allocation needed, forgetting the commitment made by their minister.

Disabled adults, all over the world describing themselves as special school survivors, are demanding an end to segregation. Their cry is that there are no legitimate reasons to separate children for their education. Children belong together—with advantages and benefits for everyone. They do not need to be protected from each other. Children should not be devalued or discriminated against by being excluded or sent away on grounds of their disability or learning difficulty. Tangible research is now available indicating that children do better, academically and socially, in an integrated setting. Given commitment and support, inclusive education is a more efficient and cost effective use of educational resources.

A huge amount of external funding is available for the education sector, but the HRD ministry needs to put the mechanism into action and to make a provision in their own budget for inclusive education. Otherwise they cannot draw from the external funding that is available under the protocol with DFID, World Bank and the European Union.

€˜Education for all’ will remain an empty promise on the part of the government if there are no plans for the operationalisation of policy into practice.

Education for all will not happen without inclusion and inclusive education will not happen without education for all. A government that promises to work for the poor has missed 20 million children in the country in the poorest sectors of the country. Can the politicians hear them? It is imperative and critical considering the injustice done to this sector of the population to look into the budgetary allocations now. The fate of 20 million children and 40 million powerless families out there in the poorest sections of our country in the rural, tribal and urban slums is hanging fire.
The writer is founder and chairperson of the Spastics Society of India.

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