The National Education Policy 2020 is seen as an innovative roadmap to overhaul the education sector in the country. For the first time in independent India, the education of disabled children is an integral part of a national policy. Although there were earlier attempts at a national education policy in the 1980s, none had as strong a focus on inclusive education as the current policy. The inclusion of early childhood preschool education in the new policy can help expand access to education for children with disabilities, as many may need extended care to maintain ‘inclusion.
The NEP 2020 is indeed very positive, on paper. Obstacles to positive implementation remain, however, as the realities on the ground are less than ideal.
According to the 2011 census, Karnataka has 24 lakh people with disabilities. A large majority of them, 74%, live in rural areas. There are undoubtedly schemes such as the Social Security Disability Pension, Special Schools, Vocational Training and Inclusive Education Grants, but rehabilitation services have failed to reach those in need, especially in rural areas. Available data, such as the number of children studying in special and inclusive schools and the number of people with disabilities employed in the public and private sector, still show that large swaths of the population lack support to pursue meaningful education. and a dignified life.
In the Indian context, human resources is a big question with no answer in sight. As recently as April 2019, schools in India were grappling with a shortage of 900,000 teachers. In 2018, in Karnataka, 2.39 lakh passed the teacher eligibility test conducted by the Department of Public Instruction to fill 10,000 vacancies in public schools in the state. Only 3.98% of candidates passed the test for primary school teachers and 16.89% for middle school teachers. It is important to note that these candidates who present themselves for the TET are all BEd graduates and that we are only talking about trained teachers, not special educators.
Special educators are a rare breed and the rigid rules of the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) do not help in developing this breed either. RCI is a regulatory body established in 1992 and, unlike its international peers, it has taken on a regulatory and policing role rather than that of a facilitator.
The ideal pupil-teacher ratio as envisaged by the government is 10:1 at primary level and 5:1 at secondary level and above for SEN. India needs a minimum of 15 lakh special educators immediately to meet their needs in the truest sense, and Karnataka a tenth to 15,000.
The current number of special educators registered with the RCI is one lakh and thereabouts nationwide, or about 10% of the current minimum requirement. Public and private schools are rightly invited to appoint special teachers registered with the RCI. Karnataka alone has over 62,229 schools, both public and private, combined. How do all these schools employ at least one special education teacher, if not more, to support children with special needs?
The reason for this catastrophic condition, among others, is the lack of adequately trained professionals with the right kind of guidance to pursue a career in rehabilitation and inclusion. Additionally, the RCI program trains single disability specialists and is therefore not sustainable. Typically we see groups of 6-8 children, with different disabilities, in a village panchayat. Is it possible to employ six different teachers? Although desirable, we simply cannot afford it.
The solution is to develop specialist multi-category teachers who are trained to meet the diverse educational needs of children with disabilities in inclusive education.
Universities also lack qualified resources: out of 54 universities in Karnataka (Central, State and Deemed Universities), only two to three offer courses related to rehabilitation and there are no departments established for rehabilitation studies. disability, although the UGC is extending its support for the establishment of centers for the study of disability and equal opportunities to encourage people with disabilities to pursue higher education.
There are hundreds of passionate special educators who are ineligible under RCI guidelines and cannot be employed by mainstream schools. Indeed, specialized educators who do not have registration with the RCI but who still practice are liable to penalties: Rs 1,000 fine and up to three months in prison or both. Practicing special educators have no viable way to register. Courses offered by colleges/universities recognized by RCI are rare. In Karnataka, for example, there is no RCI-recognized course for early intervention, which is crucial for children diagnosed with developmental disabilities like autism. What is there to do?
A policy of training teachers with the required skills is an absolute necessity while acknowledging the efforts of current practitioners and providing them with the means to register for the RCI registry must be considered urgently. Alternatively, the experts have recommended the establishment of a state-level body, the Karnataka State Board of Rehabilitation and Inclusion (Karnataka Rajyada Punarvasathi and Samanvya Mandali). This makes sense because education is a concurrent subject and disability a subject of the state and the panchayat raj in the Constitution.
Many NGOs offer training programs, focusing exclusively on special education and not covering the full range of rehabilitation training. The NGO programs are linked to the universities of Karnataka and are directly linked to RCI. Notably, these NGOs are all concentrated in Bangalore. This unplanned approach to human resource development in the disability sector has resulted in a lack of qualified resources for comprehensive rehabilitation training and relevant research for Karnataka.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPwD) passed in 2016, redefines disability: it includes more than 21 types of disabilities instead of eight in the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. There is also a change in vision and approach to disability as India signed the UN CRPD in 2006 – from disability centered thinking to a human rights based approach with a focus on inclusion.
Karnataka needs human resource development in disability disciplines based on the magnitude of disability in the state, disability prevalence, geographical distribution and age distribution. However, the state government does not have a clear policy for recruiting specialist teachers and resource teachers. This political paralysis is one of the main reasons for the serious situation of lack of access to education for a majority of children, especially in rural areas. The situation is broadly the same in most states, as education and rehabilitation are dormant issues for state governments. There are no state policies, legislations and roadmaps to reach the excluded in most states.