Developing schools without barriers

Why in News? 

  • Children with disability/disabilities (CWD) require more care, particularly in terms of accessible spaces and guiding infrastructure. It was mentioned in a report by UNESCO (2019) that CWD comprises 1.7% of the total child population in India (Census 2011). 
  • CWD faces several issues like physical, institutional, socioeconomic, and communication barriers. Moreover, nearly 70% of five-year-olds with disabilities have never attended any educational institution. They also drop out of school while growing older.

Challenges for Children With Disabilities:

  • Some of the barriers that impede their participation in accessing opportunities are inaccessible facilities like school buses, drinking water facilities, canteens, and toilets; and inappropriate infrastructure like seating, flooring, etc. The child’s emotional development is further hampered by the attitudes and perceptions among  teachers, staff, parents, and communities.
  • Other challenges include a lack of teaching and learning practices that incorporates inclusive technologies and digital equipment like assistive devices to aid and assist children.
  • It was highlighted at a training programme, jointly held by UN-Habitat India and IIT Kharagpur, that there is a deficit of accessible infrastructure like ramps or tactile paths within schools. 

Existing Provisions and Government Initiatives:

  • The existing provisions for education are: Article 21A and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.
  • The government also launched a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan adopting a “zero rejection policy” for children with special needs.
  • Furthermore, India ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In this direction, Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) was introduced in 2015.  Indian government supported the principle of Leave No One Behind (LNOB), which is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 
  • The pilot training initiative was undertaken for enhancing accessibility and inclusion in two schools in Delhi through IIT Kharagpur and the Department of Social Welfare, Delhi government. Various interactive training sessions and simulation exercises have also been organized to encourage empathy-building.

Way Ahead:

  • It is suggested that adequate funding should be provided for accessible infrastructure.
  • Moreover,  parents, caregivers, teachers, school management authorities, and the local government departments should be involved and sensitized.
  • It should be noted that by establishing inclusive and accessible schools zero-rejection policy can be actualized. 
  • A multi-pronged participatory approach should be adopted to provide an enabling environment for the empowerment of CWD. This can include measures like:
  • Awareness and sensitization programmes.
  • Training the trainers by upskilling school faculty and special educators.
  • Provide access to modern teaching toolkits and materials.
  • Technical training for local government departments.
  • A co-learning platform for knowledge-sharing.
  • Moreover, five principles of equitability, usability and durability, affordability, cultural adaptability, and aesthetic appeal should be embedded beginning in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages.
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