Inclusivity in Education in India

In the previous article, we spoke about learning disabilities and the laws in India regarding the schooling of children with special needs. It is no lie that inclusive education, as well as better compensation for children with learning disabilities, is lacking in India.

Veera Gupta and Richard Whitehead, members of the Central Board of Education in India, conducted a study about the policies and practices for inclusion of children with specific learning disabilities in India. It reviewed existing educational policies to find the extent and gaps in the inclusion of children with specific learning disabilities. Through their reviews, it was found that in spite of awareness about the learning difficulties faced by children, the educational policies are not sufficiently formulated to cover all of them. It concluded that more research on specific learning disorders should be conducted and that the level of awareness should be significantly increased in schools and colleges.

While there have been a few initiatives for improvement in India’s school system, none have created any breakthrough in providing special needs children with the education that they deserve. The National Institute of Open Schooling, provides a curriculum based on practical knowledge and is especially suited to the needs of children with learning, mental, or physical disabilities. Their educational material is developed to teach children with special needs in the comfort of their own home. Concessions are available in most Indian education boards, however, this only comes down to if and when, the disorder is detected, and how feasible it is for the family of the child to obtain a certificate showing their disability, which can only be obtained from certain government hospitals, such as the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital in Mumbai.

There are plenty of changes that can be brought about in the schools nationwide, but the most important change that has to be made is to increase the awareness of learning disabilities. Most people in India see it as a social stigma, aren’t aware of it, or just assume that a child will grow up and be neurotypical (someone who thinks, perceives and behaves in ways that are considered to be “normal” by the general population). This is often the reason many cases go undiagnosed. Early diagnosis, around the age of 7, can mean that the child receives medical and physical treatment from an early age, and is also psychologically prepared to deal with any problems that they might face. To do this, the laws that are put in place should be effectively enforced. Awareness campaigns and regular checks must be conducted in schools. Further, schools should provide therapists to keep a check on the child’s mental health. The therapist should also work with the families in providing them with the means to help their child grow and make the house a safe space for the kid.

The place we physically exist in can have a huge impact on our moods, behaviours and overall cognition. Environmental psychology is a field that specifically studies the effects of natural and artificial environment on the individuals in it. Researchers Anna V. Fisher et. al. have looked at whether classroom displays affected children’s abilities to maintain focus. They found that children in highly decorated classes were more distracted and spent more time off-task. The colours of the walls and posters/charts should not be overwhelming to the students. A calming yet bright colour like light blue is shown to be easy on the eyes, yet it does not hinder one’s attention.

Another recommendation would be for the school to have smaller class sizes so the teachers have a better relationship with the students. If there are fewer students to observe, the kids who show early signs could be referred to as early as possible, promoting early detection and treatment. Apart from that, smaller class sizes would also mean that the class is quieter, helping kids who show disorders such as auditory processing disorder or ADHD, as there is less disturbing stimulus around them. Many schools that pride themselves in being inclusive usually cap class size at around 20 students. This gives the teacher ample time to observe and note each student’s behaviour without being overwhelmed. This also reduces the chances of being bullied as a smaller class is more likely to be more inclusive of each other. However, one setback is that most schools that do focus on having smaller class sizes often increase the fees to accommodate the higher resources required for each child.

A final recommendation would be to change the syllabus for younger classes to cater more towards the strengths and weaknesses of individual children, and to change the teaching methods for older students. Like the Rehabilitation Council of India’s suggestions, the inclusion of phonetics and synthetic learning at a young age can be incremental for students with language-based disorders. On the other hand, older students should be taught with methods different from traditional chalkboard and lecture methods. Inclusions of more visual, kinesthetic, and spatial teaching styles can help students with Learning Disorders learn and remember more information. The teachers should, with the help of the students and parents, make a list of goals for the child, their strengths and weaknesses, and a detailed plan on how the school plans to work with the strengths while working through the weaknesses. Use of technology such as the use of audiobooks for children with dyslexia, use of a calculator for dyscalculia, and a speech-to-text tool for kids with dysgraphia is highly recommended and shows promising results. Reducing the need for writing or allowing students to have a ghostwriter or take tests online can also greatly help students with LDs.

The future of education for children with learning disabilities is uncertain in India. While there are rules and laws put in place to make sure that the children receive the quality care that they deserve, it is often far from the truth. There are a few schools available to the rich, upper class that can provide a perfect atmosphere for students to grow as individuals, and while schools try their best to be inclusive in their teaching methods, sometimes it just isn’t enough. Many students in rural areas never receive a diagnosis, much less proper treatment.

While there have been recommendations made for schools, it is not possible for them to be completely learning disability friendly while also being accessible by the lower strata of society. A way of changing this would be if the government sanctioned grants and loans to develop schools to provide the students with adequate facilities. The government does provide tax and fee reimbursement for students with learning disabilities, as well as reservations in governmental jobs, but there are no provisions for private schools that have a large number of students with learning disabilities. If there are grants provided, it could be especially helpful to reduce the overall class sizes and provide a better environment for the learner. However, even if that happens, many families still think of learning disabilities, autism, and ADHD as a social stigma and would go to great lengths to make sure that their kids do not get diagnosed to avoid shame from the society.

It all comes down to the awareness about learning disabilities. Till more awareness isn’t spread, more and more sections of society will always be cut off from the diagnosis and treatment of learning disorders. This, in turn, will lead to students not getting the help that they need. However seeing the development in the past ten years, India has been working really hard on the development and shows a promising future.

Harshi Shetty