Thursday, February 13, 2014

Scheme for special children fraught with many flaws

Scheme for special children fraught with many flaws

Kaavya Pradeep Kumar
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Inclusive Education for the Disabled Secondary Stage Resource Teacher A.S. Shara with her students at Government Higher Secondary School for Girls, Cotton Hill, Thiruvananthapuram.
Inclusive Education for the Disabled Secondary Stage Resource Teacher A.S. Shara with her students at Government Higher Secondary School for Girls, Cotton Hill, Thiruvananthapuram.

Dearth of special educators under IED to mainstream such children

There was no power and barely enough sunlight filtered into the corner room of the Inclusive Education for the Disabled (IED) cell for Resource Teacher A.S. Shara to go through an assignment submitted by 12-year-old Neha Thampan. Neha suffers from a neurological disorder, and is one among a group of 78 students at Cotton Hill Government Higher Secondary School here who benefits from the inclusive education programme.
While Ms. Shara was going through the copy, another student tugged at her sleeve to help her out of a muddle. Just then, she caught a glimpse of another child stepping out of the class and rushed to shepherd her back in.


This barely sums up a minute in the life of a resource teacher here. Dearth of special educators under the Centrally funded scheme to mainstream children with special needs has hampered the implementation of IED, both at the level of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (classes 1-7) and the Secondary Stage (8-12). Ms. Shara has been a teacher at Cotton Hill for the past seven years. But, she says, neither has the monthly pay been raised above Rs.14,000 nor the resource teacher position regularised.
“I manage 78 students, while ideally, a ratio of five students to one teacher should be maintained,” she says. “How can I possibly give enough attention to children who need so much additional care.”


She was recruited under the IEDSS programme solely for high school students, though she often tends to middle schoolchildren as well. The guidelines are slightly different from IED-SSA that mandates one teacher per block resource cluster — that could be 8 to 10 schools. The IEDSS appoints a teacher for each school, and maybe two depending on the numbers.
Ms. Shara has a difficult time, especially as the children joining senior school can barely write or read, indicating that they had not been coached well at the primary level. Jaya Thampan, Neha’s mother, is with her child throughout. She says the time that IED-SSA teachers spend with each student is woefully inadequate.
“Since this is done on a rotational basis, the teacher barely gets to build a relationship with the children who may be aurally or visually challenged or suffering from autism, cerebral palsy, and other neurological disorders,” says Ms. Thampan.
Pushpakala, another resource teacher who splits her week between two schools, one at Kamaleshwaram and the other at Poojappura, says that had a practical ratio been maintained, students who graduated from school would have been equipped to manage well on their own. The teachers say the prevailing conditions contradict the Right to Education Act.


The very purpose of the IED is to recognise the diverse abilities of schoolchildren and for this, the support from mainstream teachers is imperative, says E. Ahmed Kutty, State IED Project Officer under the SSA. “There is a misunderstanding regarding the role of BRC teachers. They are not responsible for every child under their cluster; rather they are meant to be supervisors and trainers of the main school teachers,” he told The Hindu, adding that there are 1,618 resource teachers employed under the SSA.
This, he says, is far higher than the number appointed in other States.
Another official with the SSA was critical of the IEDSS system of school-based appointments of teachers, describing it as segregating the special children from other children, and depriving them of the experience that the inclusive scheme envisaged.
Biju Prabhakar, who recently took over as the Director of Public Instruction (DPI), had met a couple of resource teachers here. There is a dire need to revamp the system, especially at the high school level, he says.
He plans on a more technology-oriented approach that will explore how better to utilise facilities such as special computers for the visually challenged.

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