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Education of disabled children in India
India has 40 to 80 million disabled persons, it is estimated that about 30 per cent of them are children below 14 years of age. Education to them is offered through service models ranging from segregation to full inclusion in mainstream classroom.
EVERY CHILD has a right to education –
to ensure their growth and development, to fulfil their individual potential.”

The UN Declaration on Human Rights
Arvind is 11-years-old. He developed polio when he was a small child and the disease has left him disabled since then. His arms are wrapped almost completely behind his back and his legs are permanently in a sitting position. Arvind’s left foot is the only part he can move. He uses this foot with great skill, and does all his writing and drawing with it. His aim is to become an illustrator. Everyday, with pencil between his toes, Arvind is creating new characters and simple stories. But it has not been easy for his parents to get him admitted in a school. They ran from pillar to post and somehow succeeded. But not all disabled children in Indiaare as lucky as Arvind.

The question remains: What should be done with the child who is different?

Indiahas some 40 to 80 million persons living with disability, it is estimated that about
30 per cent of them are children below the age of 14 years. Indiais one of the few countries in the world where 90 per cent of disabled children do not receive any form of education

World over the education for disabled children is in disarray. Disabled children make up a third of the 77 million children worldwide who are excluded from education - equivalent to twice the number of children living in Britain.

A new report published by the World Vision few months ago and now much in circulation among non-government organisations (NGOs), cautioned the international community not to neglect disabled children in efforts to provide universal primary education to all children by 2015.

Poverty in Indiameans many families have to make choices about, which of their children they can afford to send to school. Parents of children with disabilities have even more difficult choices, as they struggle to pay for medical treatment, special equipment and transport.

No population-based study has been conducted at the national level to provide authentic data on the prevalence and incidence of disability in India. Therefore we must rely on the projections made by sample surveys. It is estimated that the population with disability in India is approximately over 90 million, of these 12 million are blind, 28.5 million are with low vision, 12 million are with speech and hearing defects, six million orthopaedic ally handicapped, 24 million mentally retarded, 7.5 million mentally ill.

In a separate survey of children (age 0-14 years) with delayed mental development, it was found that 29 out of 1000 children in the rural areas had developmental delays, which are usually associated with mental retardation. Approximately three per cent of the children between 0-14 years of age have developmental delays associated with mental retardation.

The incidence of physical disability (number born or otherwise rendered disabled) in the rural areas of the country was on an average 90 persons per 1,00,000 populations. The figure in respect of the urban areas was 83.

The government keeps no record of the number of disabled students in schools but activists say the number of children of school-going age who suffer from disabilities may be more than 20 million.

Despite their social, religious, economic, political and geographical differences, most Indiansconsider disability as part of ‘karma’. This line of thinking, in which the past, present and future are attributed to supernatural powers typifies Indian philosophical thought with its belief in ’karma’, and is accepted in large part even today.

In Indian psyche the disability is still considered a punishment for sins of previous birth.

Despite all odds, some progressive steps have been taken in India. In keeping with demands for a more inclusive system of education in India, the government promises to include disabled children in all its educational programmes.

In a move to make the educational system more inclusive, the government has promised to include disabled children in all its educational programmes, including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).

The education of children with disabilities is offered through a variety of service models ranging from segregation to full inclusion in a mainstream classroom.

There are more than 3,000 special schools in Indiatoday. Of them, 900 are schools for the hearing impaired, 400 for children with visual impairment, 700 for those with locomotor disabilities, and 1,000 for the intellectually disabled.

More than 50,000 children with disability are enrolled in the Integrated Education for Disabled Children, a government-sponsored programme.

While the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has made a concerted effort to promote the inclusion of children with special needs, the system faces challenges in identifying these children and responding to their needs. Only around 1 per cent of funds under SSA are spent on inclusive education. And, the budget for educating children with mild to moderate disabilities in regular school settings has not increased commensurately, since the focus on inclusive education began in the 1970s.

A few schools have resource rooms and employ special education teachers to help retain children with special needs in their system. Sadly, these facilities are found in very few cities.

Since there are almost no special schools or special educational services in rural India, integrated education for children with special needs is provided by default in the village schools.

In 1987, the Ministry of Human Resources Development, along with UNICEF launched another experiment: Project Integrated Education for the Disabled (PIED). In this approach, project areas are identified and all the schools in the area are expected to enrol children with disabilities. Training was provided to teachers for this purpose. This project was implemented in one administrative block each in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Orissa, Rajasthan,Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Mizoram, Delhi Municipal Corporation, and Baroda Municipal Corporation.

Government policy, legislative actions, schemes and provisions for the disabled give the impression of a state that is committed to human rights and equal opportunities. But the ground reality is quite different. The disabled children continue to be neglected and marginalised, with the onus of care on the family rather than the community. Indianeeds to shift from the medical model of intervention to community rehabilitation of the disabled.

There is a need for a holistic approach on this issue. We need to change the education system to make it accessible to all children and prepare the society – the parents, friends and employers to provide support to the disabled children.

Although India has a growing disability rights movement and one of the more progressive policy frameworks in the developing world, a lot more needs to be done in implementation and getting the basics right. Let us teach parents how to become an effective advocate for their child. A primary goal such advocacy skill of parents is to empower them to be more effective and knowledgeable about legal provisions and schemes. Informed, supportive parents are better able to make rational decisions for their child.

The seeds of ’inclusive education’ are sown, in a society where the disabled have very little opportunity to be integrated. This indicates that task is going to be tough.
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