The state government’s recent announcement that it will focus on making secondary school education barrier-free has been welcomed by activists though they add that more than just ramps and resource centres are needed to make the education system truly inclusive.
"We need to change exam methodology to make it more inclusive as well as have a curriculum that allows for people with different abilities," says disability rights activist Rajiv Rajan. "It’s mainly the special schools and NGOs that offer vocational training and skill development like carpentry or food processing." These NGOs are mostly based in urban areas, while a large proportion of disabled children live in villages.
The state government recently said it plans to introduce ramps, modified toilets and resource centres for disabled children in classes IX to XII. The project will be part of the centrally-sponsored Inclusive Education for the Disabled at Secondary Stage. Since the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan only covers children with disabilities up to class VIII, the new scheme aims to help children continue their education in an inclusive environment in regular schools.
"This is a good first step, but we need more," says B Meenakshi, assistant co-ordinator, Disability Legislation Unit, Vidyasagar, an organisation working with the disabled. "We need to look at different evaluation and teaching methodology. For instance, if a child cannot do lab work, he has to have another option. The alternatives are available in the curriculum but many mainstream schools do not offer them," she says.
"Disabled children need to pass exams and go on to regular colleges and training institutes and become independent," says a representative of the special school at the Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu (SPASTN), a voluntary organisation for people with disabilities.
Right now, children who are academically inclined but cannot take regular board exams follow the Open Basic Education (OBE) system which allows them to choose subjects they are good at. They are then sent up for school-leaving certificate exams through the National Institute of Open Schooling ( NIOS) which gives them nine chances over the course of five years to take exams. "This system grades the child based on his or her level and ability but not all the mainstream schools provide it," says the SPASTN representative.
Meenakshi says the education system will become truly inclusive only when hostel as well as transportation facilities take in the needs of the disabled.