Friday, 24 July 2015

Inclusive Education in Rural Lower Primary Schools - Teachers Recount Their Experiences

Inclusive education is a very ambitious intent of providing equal learning opportunities to all children irrespective of their mental and physical abilities. The aspect of having both normal children and children with special needs in the same study environment comes with its own set of challenges. Many mainstream schools are skeptical about it and are not very encouraging.

Under SSA ( Sarva Siksha Abhiyan), the Indian government makes education in govt schools Inclusive. Added to this, if a child is unable to come to school due to its condition, a teacher / trainer is appointed to help the child at home itself. Despite all these initiatives, in my opinion, this philosophy still strives at its infancy in our education system.
In India many normal children do not get to go to schools, we can imagine the situation of rural children who have special needs. Most of these children simply don’t get a fair chance. There are several hurdles to cross starting with lack of awareness, to availability of special learning environments.
In my journey through several villages, I have come across many children who are mentally or physically challenged. I have seen children with conditions like palsy, Down’s syndrome, Autism and ADHD sharing their learning environment with normal children at the rural Govt schools. Many children though not severely mentally or physically challenged have stunted growth, memory issues and slow learning curves and I have always felt these conditions to be related to nutrition.
What follows in this article are the heart warming experiences of a few school teachers with children with special needs.

Through their stories we can see the challenges they face, the joy they find and the cross roads they often stand in. In the process of interacting with them, several questions have brewed in my mind about the effectiveness of the initiatives.

About Kumar (name changed)

Contributed by: Smt. BhagyaLakshmi. B.S, 
GLPS Thyaranahalli
When I was working at LPS Bommasandra in Kanakapura, a 7 year old boy, Kumar joined 1st Standard. He was physically fine but had some mental disabilities; I do not know what his exact condition is called. Unlike other children, he could not pay attention to his surroundings or anything in the class.

He would shout at other children, trouble them, he was very aggressive and other children felt threatened in his presence. We took him for a child with behavior disorder like IED (intermittent explosive disorder). I came to know that his parents felt he was a bit of a burden for them so they left him with his grandmother, who took care of him.

Kumar’s grandmother had not much interest in bringing him to the school; it is upon our insistence that she would unwillingly drop him at the school.Teaching Kumar was a challenge in front of us. All that we wanted Kumar to learn was how to behave with others and how to live independently (take care of himself). He was very aggressive initially and it was very difficult to handle the class. When ever we tried to focus on him, our regular classes would get disturbed and other children never got our attention. 

As we had not taken any special training to handle children with special needs, it was difficult to train him even in basic things like using the toilet. You can imagine the situations in the classroom that would disrupt the whole class.We did get some ideas from a few books on how to engage Kumar with some learning activities using building blocks, colors etc.

Finally one day, a teacher was appointed to teach him at his home.
We told the new teacher about all our efforts and the small changes that we had noticed in him. We wished him well and then we did not see him again.
But in our hearts we still hope that he would be getting enough support to bloom.

About Seema and Pavan (names changed)

Contributed by: 
Smt. M.N Sarala 
K.C Lakshmi Narasamma (not in photo), 
Teachers, GLPS, Keelukoppa.
I have two students in my school who are extremely slow learners. They find it very hard to remember things. Seema and Pavan mingle well with other students in the class and are very bold and beautiful children. They feel challenged when it comes to following the academic curriculum and learning in par with other children in the classroom.

However, I never gave up my efforts in bringing them up to speed.
I have used the method of “repetition regularly” so that slowly they can hold things in their mind.
It does take away a lot of attention from other children and truly tests my patience.

Many times, I have lost my cool but have quickly regained my composure and tried not look at them as children not fit to be in the classroom.

Perhaps a certain different curriculum might have been the solution but I do not have the authority to bend the syllabus for these children, and the struggle continues.

About Gowri & Suraj (names changed)

Contributed by:  Smt. Sangeetha, Teacher,
GLPS, Kondanahalli
Gowri, is a completely deaf and dumb 6 yrs old child studying in the Govt lower primary school. She is trying to write and understand all that is taught in the school. We do not train her in sign language and she manages her communication with other children through actions.
the smiling 11yr old boy in the picture is partially immobile; he cannot get up from his bed or move around. He cannot attend regular school, so a teacher was appointed to train him at his home under SSA.
Suraj loves pictures, whenever the teacher showed him picture cards; he would try to touch them. He would respond by making small sounds.

Over time, he developed a bonding with the teacher and if she was absent for any reason, he would ask about her. Through many years of training he has now learned to ask for milk or something to eat. These are a great deal of learning in the child and it would have perhaps not been possible for the parents alone to bring about. A lot of patience, love and dedication go into it.

Suraj, 11 years
These are real stories that highlight teachers doing a great job. On the flip side there is no shortage of dark tales filled with contexts of teachers and parents showing ample negligence, apathy and lack of responsibility towards children with special needs.

Children who are mentally challenged are not diagnosed in many cases. In many cases, parents and teachers choose to ignore or stay silent. Even if identified, parents and teachers are clueless about how to cater to their needs. In some cases, we find children bloom together like different flowers with their unique fragrance in a garden and in other cases; we see that children like unique plants need special care and separate environment to survive.

How do we visualize an all-encompassing garden without knowing the needs of the plants we are going to nurture?

This again brings me back to the question on effectiveness of all the efforts being put in this direction.

I personally feel that:

  1. Children with special needs must be diagnosed for their condition and guidelines should be provided to schools on accessing whether the school has proper resources and trained staff to cater to the unique needs of the child.
  2. Apart from teaching children at home, learning centers for children with special needs must be available in the rural segment with appropriate curriculum along with trained teaching staff.
  3. Regular school teachers must also be offered more training and must be equipped better to work with children having special needs.

These are just a few thoughts that come as I pass through this somewhat intense experience in the world of children. What really comes out of all these stories are a complex web of intertwined issues, emotions, problems, solutions and many thoughts on the broader subject of what do children really need to learn and how?

So far, I have still not come across a single teacher who is of the opinion that all children with physical or mental disabilities should be in different school. However, most teachers have certainly made it clear that they are not equipped enough to handle them.

They have also expressed that children with certain conditions like complete deafness, dumbness, blindness, etc need special environment and training through different medium. It will make sense to give them an environment that suits their learning needs.

If children with special needs are properly identified and teachers are given training along with a flexible curriculum for these children, we can hope to see a significant step forward towards the intent of inclusive education.