RTE OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
As another year dawns, one contemplates what one may have achieved and what promises remain to be fulfilled. For the future generations, fulfilling the right to education is a very important promise that needs to be realized. India has moved forward in fulfilling this promise which is indicated by the drop in the number of out of school children from 4.28 per cent in 2009 to an estimated 2.97 percent children in the 6 to 13 age group (according to the Indian Market Research Bureau survey in 2014). This survey also found that children with disabilities constituted 28 percent of this, out of school population, clearly pointing to the need for greater #efforts to include them. Besides access to education there is also a need to ensure that the schools which are admitting children with disabilities are adopting inclusive practices. It was to explore the barriers and facilitators experienced by children with disabilities in mainstream schools that, a study of 188 children with disabilities was conducted by Action for Ability Development and Inclusion (AADI). Semi structured interviews were conducted to gather the perceptions of children with disabilities with the aim of bringing their voices to the forefront. These children had, at some point of time been associated with AADI services.
The study found that all children except a minuscule said that they liked going to school. This was irrespective of whether children had positive or not very positive experiences at school. While 30 percent stated that generally their school experiences had been very positive, 70 percent of the children interviewed said that they did not have or were not having a very positive experience in their school life. Overall 76 percent of the children interviewed said they faced difficulties in school as compared to the 24 percent who stated they didn’t face difficulties. The following chart showing a summary of children’s responses (in percentages) makes it fairly evident that the majority of the children, with the exception of support from peers faced many barriers during school.
Figure 1: Summary of children’s responses
*Out of total sample of children facing any accessibility issues due to the nature of impairment.
Of the total children in the rural areas more had positive experiences (38 percent positive, 63 percent negative,) to report as compared to children in urban areas (23 percent positive, 77 mostly percent negative). Similarly of out of the total number of girls in the sample, 39 percent reported positively (61 percent negative) whereas 25 percent boys reported positive experiences (75 percent negative). Children going to government school appear to be having had more negative perception of their school life (71 percent negative, 29 percent having a positive experience) when compared to children going to mainstream private schools (38 percent positive, 62 percent negative).
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Children in mainstream open school section seemed to be having more negative perception of their school years (all children reporting mostly negative experiences).Though there was not much difference in the percentage of children reporting
negative experiences across ages, more children seem to be having more positive experiences that are currently going to school as compared to children who had gone to school earlier.
Children with sensory impairments appear to be having more positive experiences as compared to children with other types of impairments. As expected children with multiple impairments, appear to be having more negative experiences as compared to others.
The key barriers and facilitators identified, relating to policies, systems, services, the physical infrastructure of the school and the attitudes of people that children encounter in school, are summarized below.
Attitudes: Attitudinal barriers identified amongst teachers were seeing children with disabilities as a burden in the class, a lack of recognition of their abilities, belittling their achievements, not paying them any attention, not including them in classes, demotivating and discouraging children to come to school and having lower or no expectations from them. Worse still, poor attitudes towards children with disabilities were exposed in expressions of anger, verbal abuse and at times physical abuse as well.
Along similar lines, Principals also exhibited an adverse attitude towards children with disabilities with some having no interaction whatsoever with children including children with disabilities. Other barriers identified were discouraging children to get admission in school, making children feel that they should leave school and join special schools, not listening to them or listening but not doing anything to resolve their issues, getting angry with children and at times verbally abusing them or even hitting children with disabilities. Support staff where available would refuse to help children, would not listen to them and would make them wait, even for urgent needs like going to the toilet.
Poor attitudes amongst peers led to peers teasing, harassing, and bullying and even hitting children with disabilities. Peers would not interact with them, they would not provide support even if children asked for it, would not play with them, would not help in academic work and perceived them as ‘lacking’ by focusing on their impairments.
Physical Access: Beginning with difficulties faced in commuting to schools, children reported that inaccessible infrastructure and facilities in school hindered their participation in school activities. Inaccessibility began with inaccessible school gates, classroom doors, inaccessible higher floors, toilets, drinking water facilities, labs, playgrounds, computer rooms, libraries and uneven paths not suited for use of wheelchairs. School transport in private schools was also inaccessible, while some faced difficulties due to the lack of availability of wheelchairs in school. Provisions like toilets were not kept clean or were not functioning properly which created a barrier for all children.
Services: Teachers created barriers when they adopted teaching methods like teaching in a hurried manner, not explaining concepts, having a poor grasp of the subject they were teaching and not using any TLMs (Teaching Learning Materials). They also created barriers when they made no efforts to include children with disability, did not make efforts to understand children’s level, did not provide any accommodations (no extra time provided, no writers, no adaptation of content, and no alternative teaching strategies) and excluded them from extra-curricular activities and excursions. Their lack of information about disability, lack of understanding of needs of children with disability, lack of knowledge and skills on how to address their needs also created barriers.
Barriers to achieving the potential in learning outcomes were identified as lack of opportunity to learn, lack of expectations of teachers, lack of appropriate communication support and expectations to cover entire syllabus in higher classes.
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Admission process was reportedly difficult for some children with disability as Principal would discourage them to get admission. Provisions regarding writers were also not well implemented and appeared to be problematic because the onus of who was to provide the writer and who should be the writer appears to be usually a disputed issue. Children lacked information about their entitlements and provisions. Some reported that they didn’t receive uniform and books for long period of time.
Parent school relationships not being supportive also created barriers as teachers would keep complaining about the children to parents, they expected parents to come and help them in school including for toileting needs and asking parents to take children out of school when they asked for any issues to be resolved.
Systems: Posts of children and teachers were often reported to be vacant. Frequent changes in the Principals created problems when the new Principals were not supportive as compared to earlier Principals. Teachers were not performing their role very well as they were irregular, they would not come to class, if they came to class they would not teach. Some children felt they did this as they considered themselves to be secure in their government jobs, irrespective of how they perform their roles.
Barriers which relate to systems and policies are that there appears to be a limited supply of resource teachers, aids and appliances and support staff in school. Even though escort facilities are a provision in the current policy framework they don’t appear to be available at ground level. Transitions between classes which require regrouping of children tend to break down children’s support system which they have created for themselves. Implementation of exam provisions and accommodations are not uniformly implemented.
Attitudes: A good relation with teachers was a crucial factor which facilitated children’s sense of being included in class. Good relations were explained by the children as- when teachers appeared to respect them, spoke nicely to them, accepted them, motivated and encouraged them, showed concern for them, and treated them like ‘equals’.
When principal played a more positive role, they provided accommodations to address the needs of children with disabilities, made their schools accessible, gave admission easily, listened and encouraged children, made sure that there was no bullying or teasing, gave relevant information about schemes etc. and some even followed up on children who dropped out of the school and brought them back to school. They spread a message to all that children with disability were part of the school and should be treated well. Helpful support staff where available also helped children to cope with their school life.
Peers played a crucial role in facilitating inclusion in school. They did so by providing academic support by including them in social interactions, playing together, encouraging them, providing emotional support, listening to them, provided support in mobility or physical support where needed, in self-care needs, carrying their school bags and by simply doing things for them.
Where school parent relations were supportive children were included in school activities more easily. Teachers and principal were polite and sensitive to parent’s concerns and would also seek their help to understand how to address children’s needs. This was especially so in instances where principals were known to parents.
To continue studies despite difficulties children felt that besides themselves and their own efforts, support of various people around them like parents, siblings, other relatives, teachers, private tutors and AADI Staff supported them to continue their education.
Physical Access: Accessible features in buildings, ramps, lifts, accessible toilets helped children to be part of various school activities and address their basic needs.
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Services: Good quality teaching was one of the primary facilitators which helped children to achieve their learning potential. Quality was explained by children to mean teachers who understood their subjects they were teaching, who taught with patience, answered their queries, made sure that children understood, paid attention and provided the necessary support to children with disability by providing accommodations where needed. Liking certain subjects helped children to achieve their best in them. In terms of learning outcomes, only children who had no intellectual impairments said they were able to achieve their potential.
In the end we share the changes children suggested in schools which have been summarized below.
|Attitudes towards disability||Parents||Peers|
Despite the fundamental right to education, children with disabilities continue to be pushed out of the education system and face tremendous discrimination on the basis of disability. However despite the existing barriers, the facilitators identified in the study prove beyond doubt that barriers can be overcome. They provide a roadmap of the required attitudes of stakeholders within these educational bodies and also what needs to be done for education services, systems, and policies to overcome their exclusionary elements and become more inclusive.
*Anita Lodhi is working at AADI for the past twelve years as a research manager. She has previously been part of research projects in education, care givers, trafficking, and local governance. She holds a post graduate degree in sociology from Delhi University and a diploma in Special Education.
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