April 21, 2019

Getting Truly Inclusive

Inclusive as a term is nowadays finding increasing application. One connotation of the term is ‘including all segments of the society’ as perhaps envisaged in our PM’s slogan SabkaSaath, SabkaVikas. The phrase definitely sounds noble especially given the fact that inequalities and disparities in our society have not only existed but have also been encouraged in many instances by ingrained biases in our social systems. The social policy makers need to work on curbing such biases, or else despite all the economic growth on display we shall continue to be an unequal and unjust society.

Human beings have a tendency to disassociate themselves with anybody different from what they define as normal. We knowing or unknowingly stick together with people we feel are like us and in the process deprive ourselves from learning from diversity and being inclusive in the true sense. This tendency is there in all aspects of life. But specifically this aspect is worth highlighting in our education system, where inclusiveness is severely lacking.

Our schooling system is such that it creates pockets of homogeneity by bringing children of similar background together. Schools often are in a race to take the brightest children and bring out the best in them. In this whole race for academic excellence, a large part of the student pyramid is either facing extreme neglect or even worse, is out rightly being kept out of the system. I am talking about the children who are differently inclined; children with autism, down syndrome, ADHD and other learning disabilities.

Regular schools do not take children with “special needs”. Some schools in the name of inclusiveness take few children with very minor learning disability just to show in their prospectus that they are inclusive. The standard response that schools give is that they are not equipped to handle these children and will not be able to do justice to them. Is it difficult to argue that extreme apathy is on display in these arguments?  Unfortunately this flaw in our society will continue to be compounded – as the kids in these schools will grow up to ape the attitude of schools and the society in general – unless a fresh and bold move is made either by the government or by some non profits.

We as a society have created the concept of special school for kids with special needs. It was just convenient to put them in a different set-up with specialized teachers. In reality special tag is just a euphemism for segregation of children who are different from normal. Normal as we have defined. We find it unacceptable or rude to tag them as abnormal/ disabled, so we came up with the term differently abled or special. Sadly this change in nomenclature is all that our society has been able to change in this matter. In whatever way we may tag these children, we do not hesitate to segregate them in the name of Special needs.

While this system of segregating children appears apt and convenient to many in the education system, it has its own repercussions and drawbacks in the long-run. Eventually as adults we live and work in a society that is very diverse. It will help if we get exposed to this diversity during our childhood days so that we learn to complement the strengths and weaknesses of others in the society.

As per studies, in India we have around 8-10% children with learning issues. We have segregated many of these children into special schools. One often hears the argument that these children’s confidence gets a boost once they move from regular schools to special schools. But that’s a very shameful revelation. It just shows that in our regular schooling system there is not enough awareness of learning disability leading to humiliation of children thus afflicted.

Another argument we hear in favour of not including special children in regular schools is that it will not be fair to both regular children and special children as the system cannot take care of both their needs. But another way of looking at it could be beneficial to both groups of children.

Let me first speak from the perspective of the regular children. An inclusive environment will help these children to grow up as compassionate adults who can work well in teams and can lead with empathy. They will learn to give a supporting hand to their peers. It will help them to realize that even simple things as reading and writing which they take for granted can be a challenge for some kids. Don’t all of us lack this as adults? We fail to appreciate our blessings and keep complaining about what is missing in our lives.

Another argument is that there could be distractions in the class because of special kids. Well, today’s kids already have lot of distractions given their exposure to TV, internet, latest gadgets etc. If they can learn to still study and focus with all these distractions in their lives, I am sure they can manage with some minor distractions in the classroom. Eventually, we as adults work with lot of distractions at the workplace.

As far as kids with special needs are concerned, an inclusive environment will help them to learn societal norms. A more accepting environment will help them to gain confidence and not be ashamed of their disabilities. When special kids are living in the same society then why create a ghetto like situation in their growing up years? Being a part of the society and getting all the opportunities will expedite their learning process.

The ideal situation as I have portrayed is not going to be all that simple and it requires a complete overhaul of the education system. It will require schools to make provisions for remedial classes, special teachers, counsellors and therapists. More importantly, this requires an overhaul of our thinking process. How serious are we about an inclusive environment and how much benefit do we truly see in inclusiveness? If we want to bring even an iota of inclusiveness in our society, schools the stepping stone of our future generation could be a good beginning. Do give it a thought won’t our society be a better place if the children at an early age are exposed to the world as God has created and not as we humans have segregated.

About the Author – Ms. Rajani Sinha is economist. Besides economics, her passion lies in inclusion and social responsibility.

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