Teaching all children, improving all lives

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The challenge of inclusion requires the active involvement of all stakeholders in education, particularly teachers.

The challenge of inclusion requires the active involvement of all stakeholders in education, particularly teachers.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In India, the count of children with disabilities has been on the rise, reaching around 79 lakh as per UNESCO’s 2019 State of the Education Report for India . However, the number of special educators registered with the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) is as low as 1.2 lakh. This disparity highlights a critical issue in our education system — the severe shortage of special educators to keep up with the growing number of such children.

Special educators are a rare species and the precarious position of their profession has resulted in a growing discontentment among them. Lack of cross-disability training, absence of clear regulations for utilisation of their services, the itinerant model of employment, inadequate support from administrators, lack of lucrative job opportunities and low pay are some of the many challenges faced by special educators in India. While they grapple with these challenges, the population of children with disabilities continues to grow. Consequently, the responsibility to educate a majority of them lies with teachers who have little or no training in special education. This implies that every ‘general teacher’ will inevitably encounter students with disabilities in their classroom and therefore, should be adequately equipped to work with them.

While it is clear to us that teachers are at the forefront of inclusive education, why do they still find themselves unequipped or hesitant to work with children with disabilities?

It is found that the lack of specialised knowledge and skills and therefore, apprehension and fear about working with children with disabilities is often cited as the primary reason for their inability to accommodate unique needs. Additionally, many schools cannot afford to hire a special educator or establish inclusive infrastructure, which further exacerbates the challenge. While acknowledging this genuine issue of financial limitations, it is crucial, however, to note that the absence of a special educator in a school is sometimes utilised as a convenient excuse for minimal or no effort in accommodating children with disabilities, leading to the neglect of their needs. This mindset not only perpetuates the misconception that only a special educator can support such children but also hinders progress towards creating a more inclusive educational environment. Furthermore, despite the existence of schemes and legislation such as the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, RTE Act, RPWD Act, National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE), which offer recommendations and set expectations for teachers and teacher education with the aim of inclusion, the primary responsibility of educating children with disabilities still falls on special educators.

The scarcity of special educators along with a general dearth of teachers, puts children with disabilities at a double disadvantage. Given these shortages and the growing number of such children who are likely to be educated by general teachers, it becomes increasingly important for the respective governing bodies to develop a teacher training programme that adequately equips and empowers teachers to accommodate their diverse needs. Herein, the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) is responsible for developing the curriculum and training general teachers, whereas the responsibility to do so for special educators falls under the purview of the RCI. Unfortunately, an evident separation between the two bodies may have led to the insufficient preparation of teachers. To bridge this gap and align with previously signed Memorandum of Understanding between the RCI and NCTE in 2015, there is a pressing need to reassess how teacher training programmes can be more effectively tailored to general teachers such that they can address the educational requirement of students with disabilities.

Drawing from my personal experience of working with children having specific learning difficulties, I have observed that general educators often approach their role with fewer preconceived biases about what children with disabilities can do or cannot do compared to those with specialised training in special education, which allows them to motivate and guide students towards greater levels of achievement and excellence. Teachers, whether ‘general’ or ‘special’ , should share a common foundation that is rooted in genuine care for children and a strong commitment to their learning. Doing away with tags that confine teachers into rigid spheres would help in eliminating the notion that teaching children with disabilities is exclusively delegated to special educators. Instead, it would encourage us to see it as a collective responsibility shared among all teachers, parents and the larger community.

Working with children with disabilities is undeniably challenging, especially without training. However, it is important for all of us to remind ourselves of the crucial role of teachers as innovators. Here, innovation is not restricted to using or developing new technological tools to assist learning, but includes all actions that enable teachers to respond to the particular challenges that arise in their classrooms. These challenges are not trivial and require considerable creativity, spontaneity and adaptability.

The challenge of inclusion requires the active involvement of all stakeholders in education, particularly teachers, who have a unique opportunity to innovate, create, and care. It is high time that teachers asserted their position as meaningful contributors to the lives of all children including those with disabilities.

gauthamiks@gmail.com



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