The community at large is often unaware of the potential of children with special needs. In the popular mind, special needs are usually identified with very low expectations. Parent should believe in the value of educating children with special needs. The higher the expectations, the higher will be their acceptance in the family and society as a whole.
Soon, the Department of Primary and Secondary Education will frame a policy addressing the education requirements of the children with special needs. This will address issues such as access to school, teaching aid, teaching methodology, employing special teachers, and so on.
There was an utmost requirement to train teachers and sensitise them so that they can identify the children with special needs at an early stage as this would help in designing early interventions to the children that would help them.
As per the present Education Department’s records, there are somewhere around 85,000 children with special needs studying in classes 1 to 10. Now there are two types of interventions. One is home-based education where volunteers visit homes of children with disabilities and teach them. The other one, school readiness programme, has a school set up at the taluk level where children with disabilities can attend classes. This programme prepares them for education in mainstream schools later on.
The policy is in with the Rights of Persons with disabilities Act, 2016, which underlines the need for the government to promote inclusive education where students with and without disability learn together and the teaching and learning system meets the learning needs of different types of students with disabilities.
While addressing the gathering at the launch ceremony of Accessible India Campaign in December 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the term “divyaang” – which translates into “divine body”– for persons with disability, instead of the usual “viklaang”, or handicapped. He said persons with disability are divinely blessed with “extra gifts”. Later many organizations working for the disabled children wrote to the Prime Minister arguing that changing terminology alone would not end the discrimination that persons with disability face, asking him to address the barriers that hinder their participation in the country’s economic, social and political life.
Under India’s Disability Act (1995), children with disabilities have the right to free education up to the age of 18. Other rights include provisions such as transportation, scholarships, and free uniforms, books and teaching materials.
Children with special needs have access to special schools providing non-formal education and vocational training. To gain access to these, a “disability certificate” is required. They are issued by the Office of the Commissioner for Disabilities and can be obtained from any government hospital.
The department will hold more such consultations before coming up with a draft.