It’s time some of our schools were taught to deal with their own disability!

I have crossed the parenting stage of worrying about my child’s school, but once in a while I get jolted back to reality by the tales of others facing the horrors of the school admission system, especially in Delhi.

There are points awarded and interviews and distance measurement from the school to the home. People are even getting phone connections in their names at their friends’ homes, near desired schools – just to provide a proof of address!

But all that pales in comparison to the plight of parents of children with special needs. See this news report that I watched a couple of days ago: http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/within-her-is-a-life-waiting-to-live-but-she-has-been-turned-down-by-every-school/335857?hp&video-featured

I totally agree with the title of the story. India does neglect children with special needs! And nowhere else is this more apparent than in schools at the time of admission.

It is perhaps the first time in the disabled child’s life that an attempt is being made to move out of the safe confines of home. And the result is usually a rejection. The first of many, I would presume.

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What is appalling is that this is in clear violation of the Right To Education act, which says that no school can deny admission on the grounds of disability. Most schools will, off the record, give you the stock answer that they don’t have the manpower and infrastructure to deal with kids with special needs. In my humble opinion, that’s bull excrement, a lame excuse, and taking the easy way out.

All you need are a few extra helping hands and a Special Needs educator to train them a little and sensitise the regular teachers.

The good news is that some of the new schools coming up in the National Capital Region are doing this well. I know of at least two schools in Gurgaon, Shikshantar and MatriKiran, where children with disabilities, of various kinds, are taken in and taught along with others their age – right from nursery onwards!

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And the results apparently are quite dramatic. In just a few years, kids who were being carried into school, or who couldn’t walk unaided when they joined, are significantly more active, independent and interested in learning everything their other classmates are doing. Kids who once needed constant chaperoning by a parent in school, are taking the school bus with siblings and even joining their peers in performances on stage.

I would like to think that this dramatic change is primarily driven by the kids themselves. Being with children without disabilities motivates them to also do the things they see their classmates doing. It makes them want the same experience, the same appreciation from the teacher. It inspires them to try and rise above their own limitations. And at that growing age, they often do! To a much, much greater extent than you and I could ever imagine.

There’s a beautiful flip side to this too. And that is that the other children in the same class learn to accept these kids as they are. They learn that not everybody can control their minds and bodies as they can. They learn that some people can have ‘problems’ and it’s not anyone’s fault or an illness that can be cured with a few days of medicine. And it’s okay.

Because we are all different in our own ways, anyway. We all look a bit different. We like different things. And we can still have fun together, every day!

I wish some of those school administrators (and a lot of the rest of us!) could be sent back to school to learn exactly that!

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