The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In a shocking incident early this year, 14 students of a school for the hearing-impaired in Nagpur were arrested on charges of having killed their teacher. Most of them were minors and four have been remanded to police custody.

This incident brings to the fore the conditions in schools for children with special needs and the quality of rehabilitation professionals in these schools.

According to the Constitution, disability is a state subject while education a concurrent one. The principal responsibility for devising educational schemes for children with disabilities rests with the state government. The Centre has passed legislation on the welfare of the disabled from time to time; but more often than not, these have raised greater confusion over what constitutes the welfare of the disabled.

The Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, provides for free education for all disabled children below 18 years. But this legislation is premised on a belief in segregating children with disabilities. Worldwide, this view has long been discarded. Research has shown that not only can disabled children get meaningful education in mainstream schools, but “integrated education” also helps non-disabled children develop a positive attitude.

Keep them out

The Integrated Education of Disabled Children Scheme, launched in 1974, sought to provide 65,000 moderately disabled children all over India with educational opportunities in general schools. There would be one special teacher for every eight disabled children, greater involvement of the community and one resource room between 8 to 10 schools.

But such schemes have limited applicability and exclusionary policies continue to be applied to disabled children in many parts of the country. As a result, most disabled children do not go to school. According to a study, of the 1.2 crore children with special needs between 6-14 years, only 50 lakh attend school.

The school in Nagpur was one of the few special schools for the hearing impaired in the country. Apparently, the murdered teacher, Nalini Gaikwad, was not even properly qualified to teach in the school; there are reports that she had rubbed many inmates the wrong way with her strictness.

Rehabilitation professionals like Gaikwad are governed by the Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992. The RCI aims to regulate the training of rehabilitation professionals and to maintain a central register of such professionals. However, neither the council nor the act has met with much favour with voluntary organizations. The disagreement is over the definition of the term “rehabilitation professional”.

Haggling over words

The RCI perceives rehabilitation professional to be at par with the health or legal profession, and includes everyone from clinical psychologists, audiologists, speech therapists and hearing aid technicians, to special educators, vocational counsellors and employment officers. Yet there is no clear parameter on how to judge the quality or responsibility of the work done by such professionals.

Moreover, the list is not exhaustive and also covers a wide gamut of educational qualifications ranging from a three-month certificate course to a five years’ post-graduate degree. With its emphasis on professionals catering exclusively for the disabled, at a time the entire world is moving towards the philosophy of “inclusion” and “integration”, the RCI Act seems to hold a brief for segregation.

Sadly, media are not very sensitive to the disabled. Intially, it was reported that a gang of 12 in the Nagpur school had succeeded in their “design” because a male teacher forgot to do the headcount before the boys went to sleep and that the gang was “helped” because an old lady, who used to sleep beside the lady teacher, was on leave that night.

Another thing — provisions need to be made for special courts with trained personnel for disabled criminals, just as there are for juvenile convicts in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2000.

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