DEEP – The E-Magazine for Ordinary People [August 2008]

 

THROUGH WINDOWS IN THE SKY – From the Editor’s Desk

Some days ago I met Krupa’s grandmother.  Krupa, eighteen now, has both physical and mental developmental disabilities.  Her grandmother told me that their family had recently made a decision to stop Krupa from the special school she was going to.  Among the reasons were: She was making very poor progress at school and as she was the only child with physical impairment in the school, she was left all alone in class when the others went out to play or participate in outdoor activities.  “Krupa is very beautiful now and we feel school may not be safe for her any more,” said her grandmother.

Besides the emotional question of protecting people with disabilities from those likely to take advantage of their condition,  Krupa’s story raises important issues pertaining to education of the disabled, which is the theme of this month’s DEEP. 

§  Just as achievement levels and abilities differ from individual to individual among students who go to regular schools, so does the extent of handicap and the capacity to overcome it vary from one to another among students who go to special schools or schools for the disabled.  Activities need to be designed for students with various levels of impairment.  If this had been done in Krupa’s school, she could have also participated in an outdoor activity or game rather than staying back in the classroom, waiting for the others to return.

§  Just as modern pedagogy for regular students stresses the need to recognize extra-curricular achievements and soft skills on par with academic excellence, so must disabled students be evaluated on multiple levels, providing opportunities for a spectrum of talents to be considered on par with pre-determined curricular demands.  Krupa, for instance, has a flair for Rabindra Sangeet – semi-classical melodies, to sing which she willingly undergoes several hours of strenuous training at home.

§  Endurance and Determination are particularly important qualities for the disabled.  Compassion and Courage are extremely valuable, and rare among all sections of society. Krupa, for instance, shows extraordinary tenacity when it comes to weight-watching.  She has been told to reduce her weight,  and to achieve the target, she willingly forgoes many a tempting dish at the dinner table!  Such traits ought not to be taken for granted by schools that evaluate their wards on other, tangible parameters.    Rather, a list of such qualities may be identified as part of the evaluation process for each student.  This holds good for all schools.  Trainers and teachers can be taught to observe and record  instances that reveal  sterling qualities in children and this can be included in the evaluation report.

There is, of course, a whole gamut of questions pertaining to education for the disabled, some of which this issue of DEEP tries to talk about. 

Only your views and experiences can enrich the magazine and make it useful to a larger section of the society that is seeking awareness about how to come to terms with their life and how to overcome hurdles.  So please do write  to me at sangha0mitra@yahoo.co.uk [sangha zero mitra at yahoo.co.uk] or leave a comment right here on WordPress.

SANGHAMITRA                                                                 AUGUST 2008 [VOL. 1 ISSUE 5]

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AFTER EDUCATION, WHAT?

Unemployment is, and has been, a raging problem for decades, particularly in the developing world. The statistics regarding the educated unemployed appear to make a mockery of the very system of education, as the goal of education for most people is gainful employment commensurate with their qualification.  But there is little specific information gathered or disbursed about the correlation between education and employment specific to the disabled. 

 However, studies have shown that disabled young people are less likely to be employed and more likely to be earning far less compared to their non-disabled counterparts.  The impact of young disabled people’s frustrated ambition was apparent in the widening gap between disabled and non-disabled young people as they moved into their twenties, in terms of confidence, subjective well-being and belief in their ability to shape their own future,” says a study by Tania Burchardt of the London School of Economics [ Full report available at: http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/eBooks/1861348363.pdf ]

Governments, NGOs, institutions and corporates need to come forward to sponsor or hold seminars, webinars, workshops, get-togethers, call it what you will, to get groups of people together to share their experiences so that problems can be identified and solutions can be found as well as shared. 

The groups should include educators and special educators, individuals with disabilities, their parents and trainers, their co-students and co-workers, as well as employers, institution builders, policy makers and others interested in and working for the disabled.

The Information Exchange Possible At Such Get-togethers

*      How to search for a job, prepare for an interview, ask about the accommodation the workplace would be willing to make for the disabled to manage independently.

*      How to discuss the disability with the potential employer.

*      First-hand experience of people with disabilities – vis a vis job search and at the workplace.

*      What are the typical experiences of employers of people with disabilities.

*      What are the problems and what are the solutions that have been tried, tested and that can possibly be tried and tested.

An important finding of Tania Burchardt’s study was that the aspirations of young people was directly proportional to the educational qualifications of their parents.  Consequently, it is important to take special initiatives to increase the awareness of parents who are illiterate or those who lack higher educational qualifications to the fact that their own lack of qualifications need not affect their goals for their children.  Separate counselling sessions or lectures and presentations can be arranged for such parents and guardians so that they are not doubly disadvantaged.

All such conferences or get-togethers need to be held on a sustained basis, with clear benchmarks and goals and follow-up at subsequent sessions as well as in-between sessions.  Information and Communication Technologies [ICTs] including mobile phones – which have a wide reach and easy access even among the less privileged – e-governance initiatives and other publicly available facilities must be harnessed to provide real solutions and ensure active and continued engagement between the stakeholders and all those involved with the initiatives.

The get-togethers and the communication that links them together has the potential to become a forum for real-life exchanges between the disabled and the mainstream society so that they can understand and learn from each other, on the lines of Job Fairs that have been bringing potential employers and employees together, for their mutual benefit. 

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FROM INCLUSIVE TO ‘INTEGRATIVE’ EDUCATION

In spite of the hurdles envisaged, there can be no doubt that encouraging mainstream schools to include a small percentage of disabled students on their rolls will do good all around.  While the disabled children learn to move freely and fearlessly with their peers, the non-disabled children learn to get over the awkwardness they may feel in the presence of someone who is ‘different’ besides learning to be more compassionate, accommodative and helpful.  Of course, a lot hinges on the ambience a school is able to foster, the classroom practices a teacher is able to put in place and the attitude of the disabled children themselves. However, whether this kind of inclusive education will benefit, or indeed is even possible for, the severely disabled – particularly those with acute learning disorders or mental retardation – is a moot point.

It is also time, perhaps, to think in terms of moving towards integrative education for the disabled.  Instead of segregating them on the basis of their disabilities, is it possible for the disabled to help and learn from one another under the same roof?  It is likely to increase their sense of self-worth and boost their ability to think on their feet if they can help another person and actually be their friend and guide. 

If such a school can provide a bouquet of courses designed to meet various needs and cater to a spectrum of tastes and interests, in an open education format, the vibrant exchange of knowledge and ideas among the students is likely to boost the self-confidence of the children.

These schools can use the services of artists, writers and educationists to develop special books for custom designed curricula and make it available in various media such as Braille, audio-visual books that use sign language, interactive CD-ROMs and so on to cater to the needs of all its differently abled students.  Each can understand the book in their own way and yet discuss common questions in the classroom.  They can learn to interpret and understand communication in their own special ‘languages’. 

Competitions and games such as dumb charades, tailing the donkey, hopscotch race, blind man’s buff [bluff in American] that are popular among non-disabled students can be played with greater understanding and appreciation, if tailored to the children’s needs with thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

In addition, such ‘open’ schools can also include on their rolls non-disabled children who may wish to study in a less rigid system than that which is available in the regular stream.

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