Inclusive education: A route to a brighter future for Northeast children
Tasha Nongrum recently completed his 12th board examinations and wished to pursue further education in some good college in town. However, the college refused to provide admission to him despite him scoring good marks on the ground that he was a student with disability. He was affected with hearing disability.
Many students like Tasha have to give up on their dreams because educational institutions are not ready to accept them, not only due to their disability but more importantly due to the fact that they are not equipped to deal with disabled students. There is absence of inclusion in the field of education.
But, since every cloud has a silver lining, a ray of hope shone into the lives of disabled children of the Northeastern part of India when the Regional Action on Inclusive Education in North East (RAISE- NE) was launched in five states of the region namely Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura. It may be noted however, that RAISE-NE is in no way a competition to the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, (SSA) but, in fact a programme complementary to it.
What is inclusion or inclusive education?
Inclusive education must respond to all pupils as individuals by recognizing individuality which is something to be appreciated and respected. Inclusive education responds to special needs and will help to yield positive results for all pupils with any type of disabilities.
As B. Lindqvist in his paper entitled, "Special Needs Education- Conceptual framework, Planning and Policy Factors" states: "All children and young people of the world, with their individual strengths and weaknesses, with their hopes and expectations, have the right to education. It is not our education systems that have the right to a certain type of children. Therefore it is the school system of a country that must be adjusted to meet the needs of all its children".
Hence, with the objective of converting the dream of 'Inclusion' into reality, the RAISE-NE project was launched in 5 states of Northeastern region with Bibhudutta Sahu as the project director and Sweet Syiemiong as the inclusive education co-ordinater (Meghalaya).
What is RAISE-NE project?
- The project is aimed at providing inclusive and quality education for disabled children.
- It will focus on selected government or government supported schools.
- Its main objective is to ensure that the identified model schools should be made accessible to children with disabilities and their evaluation should be flexible as per the child's progress.
- RAISE-NE will identify some lead organizations as partner organizations which will in turn provide technical support to selected government or SSA schools for inclusive education and help in capacity building of teachers to teach disabled children.
- Other activities under the project include- enhancing teacher competence, building capacity of partner organizations, advocating attitude change among all stakeholders as well as documenting and disseminating innovative approaches and good practices.
- The project is supported by 3 international agencies: Christoffel Blindel Mission (CBM), Light for the World and Liliane Fonds.
Speaking to Shweta Raj Kanwar for TNT-The Northeast Today, Bibhudutta Sahu and Sweet Syiemiong unanimously stressed on the need for an 'attitudinal change' to overcome the barrier. They said, "Attitude is the biggest barrier that differentiates an abled from a disabled child. Attitude of not only society but also the special educators as well as parents should be converted into a more embracing one. Once the attitude problem is solved, half the battle is won".
Sweet Syiemiong says that there is a need for sensitization of SSA schools and that the key teachers should go out and impart the skills to other teachers. Most importantly, the SSA at the state level should be willing to co-operate with project co-coordinators.
However, to ensure adequate co-operation among teachers, there is a need to delve deep upon the desires and the aspirations and the reason that lags them behind for which, adequate counseling centers should be set up. Again, motivational boosters in the form of recognitions for SSA teachers are a must, she said.
However, no endeavor can be successful without the support of masses. Bibhudutta Sahu appealed for support from one and all to convert this dream into a reality. "Assistance in the form of technical expertise, man power, connection at the policy level is always welcome. The fact that we need people on board cannot be denied", he added.
Mr.Sahu also highlighted a very important point. Meghalaya, being a predominantly Christian State, the Church can play a very crucial role in shaping the mindset of the people, especially with respect to inclusiveness. Another very important point in this regard is the need for counseling centers, not only for the students or teachers but also for parents. Due to the mounting pressures of the modern world, it is but only credible to install counseling centers in place.
In short, the curriculum for "ALL" needs to be child-centered, flexible, participatory and creating partnership with parents.
To wind up, inclusive education has generated positive results in many parts of the country, creating a more embracing and holistic attitude among one and all. For the first time in Northeast India, the RAISE-NE Project has taken a small step ahead to a giant leap forward. The foundation has been laid and the blue print, all done. What may seem as uncertain can bring about a positive change in the region because "Where there is a will, there is always a way".
(By Shweta Raj Kanwar)