For ordinary people who know how to read and write, a disability test for children can be done in their homes or in classrooms through Joseph’s book “Ninte Kunjine Nee Ariyumo”. This book can be used as an informal way of finding out your child’s disability. Many parents, school teachers, teaching training centres and hospitals use this book for reference.
What is Inclusive Education and why is it important in schools ?
Inclusive education is the idea that children belonging to all categories study together in a classroom and the classroom teaches children about life. When children from all communities are present in classrooms, children get the right life experiences. Inclusive education means that both economically advantaged and disadvantaged children, physically gifted, differently abled and mentally different, all children study in one class, and when that happens, children from all levels of society can be accepted by each other.
The biggest problem with today’s society is that each group finds its own little island and makes up its own ideas and insists that it is the only right one. Society shows a reluctance to accept a person who has a disagreement with an opinion. Likewise, society does not accept people with differences due to lack of inclusive education.
The concept of inclusive education is not just about teaching children with physical and mental disabilities in such classrooms. It is mainly intended to give an experience in life to live in a society that includes all people equally tomorrow. It is through the person’s educational life that a person is thoroughly matured and equipped to meet the needs of the society. Therefore, children’s lessons that are necessary for the personality development of a child should start from schools.
Currently, there is exclusion in schools due to religious, caste, economic and physical problems. Therefore, sitting in the Parliament Assembly and merely saying that inclusive education should be implemented in all schools is not going to bring about any change. For that, if you are dreaming of a better world, it is necessary to provide inclusive education in schools right from the small classes. Because inclusion has a broader perspective.
In the schools which I have worked in, I place disabled students in the ratio of 1:6, i.e, for six normal students, we’ll have one disabled child. Therefore, there should be a balanced inclusion.
Are special schools or normal schools better for children with special needs?
Special schools are meant to look after children with very severe profound problems and enable them to be included in normal schools. Some normal schools may have restrictions on certain things for children. It is sometimes not possible to include 100% of children with toileting and mobility problems in normal schools. It may not be possible to implement. Therefore, after going to special schools for a certain time in a day to give them such special training and spend the rest of the time with children in normal schools.
It is better to go to special schools to provide therapies like occupational therapy, physiotherapy or speech therapy and for toileting mobility classes which normal schools cannot provide. For example, we had a child in our institution who had a severe disability. The child was placed in a wheelchair with about 10 belts and was sent to the normal school. Within two months, the boy started laughing. That’s something that wouldn’t happen even if you go to a special school for 10 years. Because there are a lot of kids there to guide him. For that, it is essential that its teachers and staff have a mind to include such children. But inclusion will never happen if schools behave in an attitude that we cannot afford such children.
Therefore, children with severe mental retardation should be sent to special schools when they need treatment and after that they should be sent to normal schools. Such children should be compulsorily given the opportunity to see the normal sky and earth at least on certain days of the week. Do not deny their rights.
What arrangements should be made for special children in schools while implementing inclusive education?
What changes should be made depends on each child’s problems. Schools do not need to make changes to what is intellectually important when including financially disadvantaged children. It is enough to make the facilities in the school available to those children as well. But if it is a child with restricted mobility, provision must be made for that child to be able to reach all areas of the school. Wheelchair accessible ramps should be made for such children. In doing so, it benefits not only children with mobility but also teachers who are older or have any mobility issues. Toilets and seating arrangements are all required for their convenience.
Implementing technology for inclusion is essential when it comes to making inclusion universal. It becomes necessary to make facilities for these children to reach all areas. For example, elevator facilities. Providing such facilities increases the intellectual standards of the school.
What changes happen to peer groups when differently abled children are also included in normal schools?
In fact, this inclusion is more beneficial for normal children than for children with special needs. Normal children can learn the values of life with these children. Everything we teach in moral education or value education can be understood practically. Moreover, teachers can also model this to raise them into empathetic children. And we can be a little more grateful to society and nature. In fact, its benefits are more for normal children than for children with special needs.
But if a school’s policy excludes children with such disabilities, that school’s policy is likely to be wrong. If there is a disabled person in the home of these children, whether old or not, if it is a child who deals with special children in school and knows them well, then that child will not feel any problem helping the people in the house. Inclusive education can bring about a positive change in society.
Neither parents nor teachers pay special attention to detecting learning disabilities in children. The only thing that matters is whether a child is studying or not. How much effort do teachers need to put in identifying learning disabilities in children?
Since 1987, we have been constantly telling schools that the intervention to be given to children with a learning disability is applicable in the normal classroom. A teacher who knows how to deal with a child with a learning disability will be able to deal with all the children in that class who have learning difficulties. Therefore, it is necessary to include them in that kind of training. A problem with most teachers is that once they enter the teaching profession, they never evaluate their work. Whether there is a need for any change in teaching methods, it does not matter how much change is taking place in the classroom. Evaluation should be done by taking into account how children with learning disabilities have been accommodated. For that, they need to be given the necessary training. Also, special appreciation should be given to the people who bring up children with learning disabilities. Special appreciation is given to schools that have implemented inclusion in programs like Harita Vidyalaya of the government.
Is it compulsory to have one special educator per school? What is your opinion?
Schools need a special education trainer instead of a special educator. All teachers in a school are required to receive special education training to handle children with special needs. All teachers should have minimum knowledge of special education. But unfortunately, a misconception in schools in Kerala and India is that special education refers to people who teach children with mental retardation. Special B. Ed means MR subject. Learning Disability, Autism or Cerebral Palsy are very rarely the subject. Schools need someone to train all teachers to accommodate all types of children in the class and deal with them in a minimal way.
If there is only one Special Educator, all teachers will refer students who are behind in learning to this Special Educator. When that happens, more children come to a special educator than sit in a classroom. Instead of this, special educators teachers should make such children sit in the classrooms and give them techniques to accommodate them.
If we look at our Kerala education system, it is currently shifting from inclusion to exclusion. What do you think about it?
Earlier there was a competition between schools for 100%. At that time, there was a trend of giving TC to children with disabilities, but now unlike them, it is seen that schools are abusing children with disabilities by 100% by taking the benefits they should get. Now when the months of January and February come around, schools bring such children to hospitals and teach them about the symptoms of disability and when the doctors check them, the children behave as if they have disabilities. Thereby, things are moving towards a trend where the schools are grabbing all the benefits that really dyslexic children should get. The school authorities are actually doing a great disservice to these children. At a very young age, children are encouraged to commit crimes or engage in corruption. Parents have become a little more aware and there are no more expulsions like there used to be.
What are the laws and regulations implemented for children with such disabilities in our country?
In 1995, the PWD Act came, the Persons with Disabilities Act. After that, in 2016, RPWD Rights of Persons with Disabilities and National Trust Act were in place. As per the RPWD Act, 2016, examination benefits and job benefits are offered to children with disabilities. Moreover, in the recent past, the high court judgments have come which are very strict. If they do not have the jobs to be given to such children, then the post should be left vacant and they should be appointed according to the number of children coming. All such acts are active in our country.
You are the General Secretary of an organization like ALDI – Association of Learning Disability India. What are the activities of ALDI?
It is an organization of parents that started very informally in 1987 and became a formal organization in 1995. Here we are doing things that promote 100% inclusion. Classes are given here for parents. They go into homes and become child therapists. Perens does not need to be dependent on a system. We create the IEP and involve parents in planning and implementing their interventions. Along with this, assessment, diagnosis and interventions for children and training for parents are provided at ALDI. We also have a special curriculum to detect and eradicate symptoms in children as early as three and a half years of age. Life skill camp is also provided for children on our campus.
In 2006, the World Health Organization mentioned us in 13 pages in their world health report called ‘Parents as Change Agents’.
Why did you decide to work in this field?
The main reason is that I am a dyslexic. So we can know the extent of mental trauma these children go through. It is not possible for a normal person to understand the problems of a dyslexic person. As long as the society does not understand this, there is a mental trauma that such people go through, and I have come to this because I have experienced it myself.