Inclusive Education has been at the center of educational discourse in recent times in India especially in the light of the fast paced changes witnessed in the policy realms. The term ‘inclusion’ encompasses within it several dimensions such as‘integration’ and ‘mainstreaming’. It is surprising that how these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The controversy among the scholars, activists and the state has invariably been focused around these concepts and categories.
It is within this broader discourse that my research falls. My primary focus is on prospects of inclusion of children with autism spectrum disorder. Also one of the main concerns of the research is to gain an understanding of the idea of inclusion. While exploring the idea of inclusion during the course of research, the complexity involving the concept of inclusion emerged when the different individuals such as parents, schools, teachers of autistic children revealed their understanding of the term. There was a huge difference in the way these different segments understood it. It was surprising to note how in a particular school, inclusion simply referred to an activity of dining with the ‘normal’ children.
In yet another instance it was observed that inclusion was just a matter of participation of autistic children in the school assembly. In an interview with a Principal of a school, it came to light how the school claimed to follow the policy of integration rather than that of inclusion. This statement urged me to think about the distinction between inclusion and integration and it also challenged the claim, which says that inclusion and integration mean the same. But then what is the difference between integration and inclusion? Models of integration are based on the assumption, that there is something wrong that needs to be fixed in order to fit into the system. In other words the primacy of system is placed over and above the need of the child who is supposed to adjust to it with some amount of help. The support system and adaptations that occur are put in place in order to force a child into an existing classroom setting. The child should adjust to these adaptations or else he/she fails.
Inclusion models believe that all children are different and also acknowledges the fact that all children have the ability to learn at their own given speed and in their own specific ways. It strictly believes in the fact that there is nothing in a child that needs to be “fixed” in order for that child to fit into the system. It is the school system as a whole that needs to change in order to meet the individual needs of all learners. Now on the basis of this difference and on the basis of the research done I can say that in none of the schools inclusion was taking place but what was happening was integration.
Now coming to a very crucial aspect, which is that of the role of the state. What is the role of the state in regard to formulation of the policies concerning the disabled’s education? The state doesn’t seem serious about addressing the issues concerning the disabled’s education. The amendment to the Right to the Education Act and various other legislations and Acts are pointers to this. The Right to Education Act which makes elementary education a fundamental right for children between the age of 6-14 years leaves out the children with severe and profound disabilities. There have been amendments which have been made to address this need but these amendments also rather than taking a step towards inclusion seem to be moving towards legalizing the exclusion of children with disabilities. For instance, the new amendment legalizes home-based education for the disabled children and with this the situation of the disabled children has worsened and this fundamental right of the child to education is being watered down.
The practice of home-based education was introduced by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in it’s document titled ‘ Discovering New Paths to Inclusion- A Documentation of Home-based Practices for Children with Special Needs’ and was considered as one of the paths to successful inclusion. But I strongly feel that home-based education does not lead to inclusion but it definitely leads to exclusion of disabled children from the wider society and fosters social isolation. Home –based education should not become the only option for the education of the disabled child. Now as mentioned above that an inclusive system is the one that is ready to undergo transformation to incorporate the needs of the child and if necessary the system should be able to stretch it’s limit for the child and not force the child to adjust according to the system. The practice of home- based schooling seems to be forcing the child to adjust itself according to the system. It is in this sense that the idea of ‘special school’ itself becomes problematic as it hinders the path to inclusion. The very minute we label a child ‘special’, we are bound to say that there are some needs of the child, which cannot be met by the mainstream or the larger society and so you tend to relegate the child to a ‘special sphere’, which detaches him from the society and the wider community. But then why are we blaming the special schools when the schools that, claim to be ‘inclusive’ are of no help to these children. Where will these children go? The attitude of the society towards such children is moulded by these factors and they start bearing the stigma of being ‘different’ from their peer group with no acceptance in the larger social fabric of the society. If we consider the plight of the girl child, it is far more difficult and one which faces a lot of problems in the society. Further if the disabled girl belongs to the economically weaker section of the society it becomes much more critical and difficult to be accepted within the desired framework. Hence, it can be seen how social stratification is an important issue that continuously intersects the issue of disability sharpening the challenges. This stratification becomes furthermore visible when the approach of the State and sections of the society, which argue for integration or special schools. The fieldwork amply reflects that the economic condition of the disabled child locates the child in different situations. Gendered dimension further complicates the matter. The disabled poor, girl child faces the utmost challenge in this regard.
Acceptance, awareness and sensitivity are the need of the hour. For this to happen the entire system needs to undergo an overhauling. By system I mean the state, community, society and we as individuals also need to change our mindset and broaden our horizons.