@ Vikas Sharma | Sr Journalist
New Delhi: The 2019 State of the Education Report for India: Children with Disabilities, was launched today at an event organized by UNESCO New Delhi, at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi. It was attended by over 200 representatives from the government, civil society, academia, partners and youth.
To be published annually, the 2019 report is the first of its kind published by UNESCO New Delhi and highlights accomplishments and challenges with regards to the right to education of children with disabilities (CWDs). Based on extensive research of national and international documents of reference, it provides comprehensive and detailed information on the current state of education of CWDs and submits ten key suggestions to policy makers.
“Much has already been done in India for the education of children with disabilities, but with this report we are suggesting a number of concrete recommendations, to take several more steps forward and help the nearly 8 million Indian children with disabilities get their share of an education,” said Eric Falt, UNESCO New Delhi Director.
“UNESCO’s State of the Education Report 2019 is expected to deepen our understanding in this regard and help the education system better respond to the learning need of children with disabilities. This will enable us to make significant progress towards our collective objective of leaving no one behind and provide to all children and youth equitable opportunities for quality learning”, said the Vice President of India, Hon’ble Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu in his message.
The Report acknowledges that inclusive education is complex to implement and requires a fine understanding of diverse needs of children and their families across different contexts. India has made considerable progress in terms of putting in place a robust legal framework and a range of programmes and schemes that have improved enrolment rates of children with disabilities in schools. However, further measures are needed to ensure quality education for every child so as to achieve the goals and targets of Agenda 2030 and more specifically Sustainable Development Goal 4.
At present, three-fourths of the children with disabilities at the age of 5 years and one-fourth between 5-19 years do not go to any educational institution. The number of children enrolled in school drops significantly with each successive level of schooling. There are fewer girls with disabilities in schools than boys with disabilities in school. Significant gaps therefore remain, even though successive government schemes and programs have brought large numbers of children with disabilities into schools.
For instance, more work is required in the field of assistive technologies, with particular attention paid to bridging the digital divide and overcoming equity concerns. As an example of good practice, recently, in a two-year research-cum-documentation project in the North East, sign languages operating in the region were compiled in a web-based application known as ‘NESL Sign Bank’. It is an online open source educational resource that contains information regarding the types of sign languages used by the deaf community. Currently the application incorporates data for 3000 words and has the potential to increase the database further. In 2018, the app was awarded with the Jury Appreciation Award at the 22nd All Indian Children’s Educational Audio-Video Festival & ICT Mela.
Government bodies have undertaken many other initiatives to make resources accessible to children with disabilities. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) created the Barkha – Graded Reading Series for children, which highlights the possibilities of Universal Design of learning. NCERT has developed two manuals on ‘Including Children with Special Needs’ for primary and upper primary stage teachers. Many States are using them extensively to understand the need for curriculum adaptations wherever children with disabilities study alongside other children in inclusive classrooms.
According to the UNESCO report, the attitude of parents and teachers towards including children with disabilities into mainstream education is also crucial to accomplish the goal of inclusive education. Development of inclusive practices requires flexible curriculum and availability of appropriate resources. Different frameworks for curriculum design can be adopted to develop curriculum that is both universal and suitable to adaptations. Accessibility to physical infrastructure, processes in the school, assistive and ICT technology and devices are also essential resources.
Emerging from extensive analysis, the report proposes a set of ten recommendations:
- Amend the RTE Act to better align with the RPWD Act by including specific concerns of education of children with disabilities.
- Establish a coordinating mechanism under MHRD for effective convergence of all education programmes of children with disabilities.
- Ensure specific and adequate financial allocation in education budgets to meet the learning needs of children with disabilities.
- Strengthen data systems to make them robust, reliable and useful for planning, implementation and monitoring.
- Enrich school ecosystems and involve all stakeholders in support of children with disabilities.
- Massively expand the use of information technology for the education of children with disabilities.
- Give a chance to every child and leave no child with disability behind.
- Transform teaching practices to aid the inclusion of diverse learners.
- Overcome stereotypes and build positive dispositions towards children with disabilities, both in the classroom and beyond.
- Foster effective partnerships involving government, civil society, the private sector and local communities for the benefit of children with disabilities.
UNESCO hopes that the report will serve as a reference tool for enhancing and influencing the policies and programs that practice inclusion and scale-up quality education opportunities for CWDs.
The substance of the Report has been developed by an experienced team of researchers from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, under the guidance of UNESCO New Delhi.