National empowerment is a process that requires the upliftment of minorities. For a developing country like India, education is perhaps the most powerful tool towards national empowerment. In 2001, India had a differently-abled population of approximately 21 million people which increased to a whopping 27 million, approximately, in a matter of 10 years. This 22.4% increase by 2011, urged governments to look into the matter of educating & empowering the specially-abled. The subject has gained much momentum in the planning stage over the last couple of decades. It is time to check how effective these plans have been in the implementation mode at the grass-root level.

The government apart, NGOs & human rights organizations have created a lot of noise in the past few years demanding inclusive education for the differently-abled students. However easy it may sound, it is a complex process, especially in India where the masses still equate disability with mental illness. Let us find out how far Indian education has actually reached when it comes to educating & empowering the specially-abled students.

A few schemes & policies have been undertaken by the Government of India for these children. Few of the notable ones are –   Students with disabilities who have passed 10th standard & want to further pursue education or any technical training, the duration of which is a year or more, are awarded scholarship by the Government of India. Students with medical conditions like autism, mental retardation, multiple disabilities or cerebral palsy are awarded a scholarship from class 9.

IEDSS or Inclusive Education for the Disabled at Secondary Stage is a scheme that recognizes specially-abled students who have successfully completed secondary education, that is, from class 9 to class 12 in local or public schools. These students are provided with benefits such as books, scholarship, uniforms, academic material etc. As per the Comprehensive Educational Scheme, specially-abled students are provided with books, stationery, conveyance facilities, special equipment, uniform etc as well as scholarships. Other benefits include exempting visually impaired students from taking mathematical examinations or examinations that include pictorial questions. There is also provision for them or those with orthopaedic disabilities to use for taking examinations. They are also not required to take extra subjects like the third language.

IEDC or Integrated Education for Disabled Children is run by the central Directorate of Education. Apart from providing benefits like books, stationery, study material, exam assistance, uniforms etc, this scheme ensures that these students are brought at the same level with regular students in common schools so that apart from getting educated they gain self-confidence & don’t feel left out.  Specially-abled students who have completed secondary, higher secondary & college level education & want to pursue M Phil or Ph D can get financial assistance under the Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship scheme. This scheme covers all universities & colleges under UGC & awards, 200 fellowships, annually. However, the fellowship is time-bound till 5 years.

 

Though these schemes have helped many get closer to their goals, they have a major drawback. The generic aids provided by these policies do not cater to these children’s special needs. Even in 2018’s Digital India, the Government fails to understand that special children have different ways of looking at things & require innovative methods of teaching. Visual aids backed by technology will be able to create greater impact in their brains compared to traditional methods. This is perhaps the strongest argument against the Indian education system for the specially-abled students.

Mainstream Indian education is an exam-centric system where marks determine how much a child has learnt. Education for differently abled should be more application based & practical. This again is not a reality in India. Teaching methods for specially-abled students in western societies are much more resourceful & equipped with the latest technology. India has not even got close to the point with the various schemes mentioned earlier. The question thus arises; does ‘digital India’ even exist for the specially-abled students?

However, like the silver lining behind every dark cloud, Indian education scenario seems to be changing through baby steps. Umang project in Haryana has already brought in the aid of technology for the special kids. Let’s see how.

Haryana’s Sirsa: A Case Study

‘Tab-labs’ – this futuristic sounding word is actually a reality in Sirsa district of Haryana. Tab-labs built in Government schools have become the new classrooms for the differently abled children. Tablets with pre-programmed lessons have been installed at various schools by the Sirsa district administration under Project Umang.

Deputy Commissioner, Sirsa, Prabhjot Singh says that digital methods ensure active participation of the special child in the learning process. The authorities have paired up with ConveGenius for the technology in few schools whereas for children with visual impairment the government has brought in Braille Me devices.

Inclusive education can be harmful to the vulnerable young minds for the special children if they are forced to follow the century-old education system of India. The Haryana model is a ray of hope that has literally applied the concept of Digital India at the grass-roots.

Principal, Prayas School in Sirsa, observes that the specially-abled children in the school look forward to a visit to the tab lab. Visual learning activities keep them engaged & excited. The ‘do-it-yourself’ modules installed are so engaging that many students can now independently learn poems & do mathematical conclusions on their own.

The interactive lessons that these user-savvy tabs contain are outlined as per the norms of the National Institute of Open Schooling. Each student has an account in the system that ensures personalized lessons & teachers too have accounts through which they can monitor the activities of the students. After completion of the six-level learning process, students may take the NIOS examination.

Haryana has definitely put a step forward in the right direction to educate the specially-abled children. ‘Learning by doing’ is the basic concept Indian education should adapt to train these special minds & in digital India that should not be a very big deal.

This apart there are other things too that the Government, as well as the citizens, should look into.

Medical infrastructure for these kids needs to be more developed in India. Psychologists argue that medical aid in the learning years acts as the catalyst for the mental development of specially-abled children.

Individualistic teaching methods & personalized lessons should be stressed upon even if not backed by technology. In this way, special children can be effectively brought into mainstream education.

The first thing that the citizens of India need to change is their mindset. Differently abled children often fall prey to the common mindset which equates every physical or mental disability with insanity. Western societies are mostly free of such prejudices & this saves the child from a lot of harassment & embarrassment.

We should remember that normality is just a matter of perspective. In the end what counts is how strong one finished, not how one started. Names like Stephen Hawking, Beethoven, Stevie Wonder, Sudha Chandran, Rajendra Singh Rahelu etc are proof that a disability cannot stop people from achieving what they want to. Though it depends a lot on the personal determination, initiative on part of the Government is expected in helping the special children of India in the unstoppable pursuit of their dreams.

 

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