Should all students with special needs be admitted to special schools? Shouldn’t they have the right to get an education in general schools like other children? A recent Supreme Court observation related to the education of disabled children have raised these questions among child rights activist and academicians.
In the observation, the apex court said, “We are of the prima facie view that the children with special needs have to be imparted education not only by special teachers but there have to be special schools for them.”
The court added, “It is impossible to think that the children who are disabled or suffer from any kind of disability or who are mentally challenged can be included in the mainstream schools for getting an education.”
The observation made by the Supreme Court of India has attracted criticism as activists and academicians view it as not only contrary to the principles of imparting effective and inclusive education, but also to the existing law on educating special children.
The apex court made this observation while hearing a case related to the appointment of special teachers in schools under the Uttar Pradesh government.
“After the hearing of a PIL, filed through advocate Prashant Shukla, claiming lack of a sufficient number of special educators in Uttar Pradesh to teach children with special needs, the Supreme Court has asked the state government why separate schools cannot be set up for them,” reported India Today.
“I think this is one of the rare cases where the Supreme Court has got the law wrong,” said Ashok Agarwal a Supreme Court lawyer and a child rights activist.
He said that no law in India provides for segregation of children as per their abilities and disabilities, but calls for inclusive education and equal opportunity.
“The Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act provides for augmenting the present educational infrastructure so as to enable inclusive education to one and all, irrespective of the difference in their abilities,” he said.
The act, he informs, makes it mandatory for the schools and the governments to train teachers to facilitate teaching for students with special needs. Section 16 of the Chapter Three of the act clearly mentions, “The appropriate government and the local authorities shall endeavour that all educational institutions funded or recognised by them provide inclusive education to children with disabilities.”
Agarwal maintained that providing children with disabilities with other students can be made beneficial for both the group of pupils.
Explaining these benefits, Sudesh Mukhopadhyay, a professor at the National University of Education Planning and Administration, said, “It has been proven in a study that when students with special needs study in the same environment with other children, that benefits the other group of students too. For, multi-sensory teaching methods enhance the quality of learning.”
She, however, presents a supplementary view that merely letting a child with special needs sit in a class along with other students does not help any group of students. In such cases, students with special needs lag behind in learning.
Agarwal also admits that there is a gulf between what it should be and what it really is, in environments in many schools in terms of teaching students with special needs.
“I have met some students with special needs who themselves subscribe to the idea that they should be taught in special schools because they are made fun of by other students in their class,” he said.
Experts also complain that many schools do not even attempt at creating an environment enabling enough for students with special needs.
“Why can’t a school house a wheelchair? Why can’t a school have bathrooms accessible for everyone?” asks Radhika Alkazi, a disability rights activist.
As per a study on disabled persons in India conducted by the Government of India in 2016, 27 percent of disabled students in the age group of five to 19 years of age never attended schools, 61 percent were attending schools and 12 percent attended earlier.
A United Nations report published in 2015 said that 9.9 lakh children with disabilities were out of school.
“But then it is the responsibility of the school to create and maintain an environment for all kinds of students by providing them physical, moral, intellectual and emotional support in order to ensure learning,” Agarwal asserted.
The Rights of Persons with Disability Act provides that educational institutes should provide necessary support individualised or otherwise in environments that maximise academic and social development consistent with the goal of full inclusion.
Creating a separate school for special children would also mean depriving them of the benefits they are entitled to under the Right To Education Act, say, experts.
“As per the Right to Education Act, 25 percent of the seats in private schools should be reserved for poor and disadvantaged groups. If all the children with special needs are to study in a special school then how will they enjoy this benefit?” asks Agarwal.
Alkazi added,”If this the view we are going to take on the education of special children at a time when the nation is moving towards full inclusion, we are going to lose this struggle.”