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Inclusive Education: An Elusive Myth?

Updated: Apr 15

Image Courtesy: Newz Hook


"The door was locked, I didn’t have the key 

She shrieked in disbelief

So I stood just beside the door

Till the time the floor also washed out onto the shore

And I was shoved into another door 

With my dreams turning into a mirage."


The key and the answer to all the major issues and problems of the world lie in education and learning. Education and learning have been given importance in our fundamental rights and  United Nations’s Sustainable and Millennium Development Goals amongst others. Yet even after this key realization, the world is still revolving backwards as seen vis a vis lacunas in inclusivity in the quality of education imparted to different sections of the society, (the consequences of prismaticism as discussed in my previous article). However, this time I wish to find the solutions to dismantle this exclusiveness of basic and good quality education.


In this article, I will be exploring the ideal (Inclusive education is achievable) and realpolitik (Inclusive education is a myth) with respect to education by drawing parallels between the concepts of traditional (physical and basic safety of individuals in a state) and non traditional  ( emotional and psychological safety contributing to individual’s growth in a state) notions of security to traditional and non traditional notions of education. Further, the main demographic for my analysis would be children from child care institutions as they have been the most marginalized in receiving basic education. I have had the opportunity to witness this reality during my time with Make A Difference and my association with the children.


The First meeting: Facing the myth but hoping for the ideal

"I embarked on my journey in education as a Volunteer and Fellow with organizations such as Teach For India, Make a Difference, and Team Everest. Through these experiences, I honed my ability to adapt pedagogical approaches to meet the diverse needs of children, addressing the pervasive educational gaps in our society. The theoretical understanding I gained from books and news articles came to life as I witnessed the stark reality of these gaps firsthand. It was both an internal calling and an external imperative that drove me to take action.


Before stepping into the classroom, I diligently familiarized myself with each organization's structure, core values, and mission. This strategic approach instilled in me a deep understanding of their principles of public management, equipping me with the insights necessary to embark on my impactful journey in education.


I vividly recall the day I walked into a classroom filled with bright and eager 8th graders. Some were enthusiastic about the English lesson, while others were more interested in mischief-making. However, as I began to teach, I noticed a disheartening trend: many students quickly lost interest. Initially, I attributed this to a mismatch between my teaching style and their preferences, or perhaps a lack of interest in the subject. However, I soon realized that the issue ran much deeper.Taking a proactive approach, I encouraged one of the students to continue from where I left off, only to discover that they struggled to read even basic English sentences. This pattern persisted as I called on more students, revealing a concerning reality: the majority of my students lacked proficiency in English. Determined not to let this obstacle hinder their learning, I made a pivotal decision to teach the entire chapter in Hindi, ensuring that they grasped the teachings and values embedded within the lesson.


Returning home that evening, I grappled with feelings of failure and disillusionment. I had entered the education system with lofty aspirations, only to confront the harsh reality of inequality and injustice. The disparity in educational opportunities and the glaring disparities in starting points for students from different backgrounds weighed heavily on my conscience.


However, in the midst of my emotional turmoil, I recognized the urgent need for action. Acknowledging the necessity for a paradigm shift in pedagogy, I introduced additional English classes alongside our regular curriculum, creating a bilingual learning environment that catered to diverse linguistic abilities. Moreover, I incorporated hands-on practices such as role-playing to enhance engagement and deepen understanding. This improved the learning outcomes for the students substantially.”


This modest but crucial advancement marked a significant stride towards enhancing the quality of education. Nevertheless, amidst this incremental progress, it remains imperative to acknowledge the pervasive exclusivity inherent in the dissemination of learning and educational opportunities, particularly within institutionalized caregiving settings. Thus, to gain a comprehensive insight into the educational landscape for children in Child Care Institutions (CCIs), it is essential to delve into the contextual backgrounds from which they emerge.


History of Child Rights and CCIs

It was in 1989 when the United Nations announced the Convention on Child Rights. Soon after in 1992, India acceded to the treaty. Further developments took place internationally when the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in the year 2009 and had issued guidelines for Alternative Care for Children that is (ACS). The Indian constitution itself ensures and highlights the importance of Children’s rights and under article 39(f) which states- “Children are given the opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment”. Thus, by keeping the spirit of the constitution alive and to ensure that each child is catered for development and well being, childcare institutions have been set up for those children who are in need of care and protection.


Childcare institutions are defined under the Justice Juvenile Act 2015 as Children’s Homes, Open Shelters, Observation Homes, Special Homes, Places of Safety, Specialized Adoption Agencies and a Fit facility, for such children. Further, there is the concept of aftercare which provides facilities and financial support for care leavers (CLs) after they reach 18 years of age.


The year 1986 witnessed the enactment of the first uniform Juvenile Justice Act, marking a significant stride in the country's approach to addressing the needs of neglected and vulnerable children. This landmark legislation aimed to establish specialized and tailored interventions for children, supplanting the disparate Children’s Acts prevalent across different states in India.


The evolution continued with a notable amendment in 2000, transforming the act into the JJ (Care and Protection of Children) Act. This pivotal revision expanded the scope of the legislation, placing greater emphasis on crucial facets such as the comprehensive care, treatment, protection, and rehabilitation of children in need.


Further advancing the cause, the JJ Amendment Act of 2015 represented a significant leap forward. This amendment sought to integrate two distinct categories of children: those in conflict with the law and those in need of care and protection, thereby fostering a more holistic approach to juvenile justice.


 The following come under Children in need of care and protection which is the focus of this article-


• Street Children 

• Orphaned or abandoned Children

• Abused Children 

• Working Children 

• Children who are the victims of Commercial sexual exploitation and Trafficking 

• Children engaged in substance Abuse 

• Children in disaster and conflict situations

• Children in families which are at risk 

• Differently abled Children

• Mentally- ill Children 

• HIV- AIDS infected children

• Juveniles in conflict with law

 

When these children are institutionalized we see problems persist as seen in the lack of basic physical infrastructure, sanitation, hygiene and physical safety. In the educational spaces, we see there are few laws related to achieving learning and educational outcomes for children in CCIs as well as for care leavers which hampers their emotional and psychological development.


Learning and Education: Redefined 

For the purpose of this article, I would like to describe education and learning as not merely textbook learning but a consistent activity inculcating social, emotional and psychological skills into children that can be applied in the real world.  I would also present my definition of Traditional and Non traditional notions of education akin to the concepts of Negative (Minimum State interference to ensure the safety of its citizens) and Positive liberties (Strategic state intervention to enhance the liberty of an individual in a state) by Isaiah Berlin. Let us compare the state as the policy makers and individuals as children from CCIs.


Traditional notions of education emphasize the importance of safe environments, proper infrastructure, hygiene, and nutrition. These basic requirements serve as the foundation for learning, fostering a conducive atmosphere for academic growth. This can be categorized as a negative liberty as the state’s role is more of a protector as compared to an active agent. An idealized version of traditional education involves innovative classroom structures and collaborative learning environments, such as roundtable conferences, that promote community-based learning over competitive models.


On the other hand, non-traditional notions of education prioritize the quality and social impact of learning experiences. Embracing pedagogical approaches like hands-on and experiential learning, I advocate for student involvement in decision-making processes that encourage critical thinking and empowerment. In my ideal vision, teachers serve as facilitators rather than authoritative figures, nurturing independent thought and active participation among students. By fostering a culture of mutual respect and understanding, every student can contribute meaningfully to the learning process, enriching their own perspectives and those of their peers. This can be classified as providing positive liberty wherein the state is acting as an active agent in providing innovative and new methods of education.


Further examples of non-traditional notions of education and Positive liberty can be seen if the learning and educational curriculum is tailored according to the  experiences of the children so that they are emotionally and mentally equipped enough to overcome ACE’s.


For quite some time there has been a lacuna in the psychological dimension in child care and aftercare institutions. Mental health is a significant factor that needs special attention, as most of the children have had Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). These are those experiences faced by children aged between 0 to 17 which are traumatic (in the form of experiencing violence, neglect, mental health problems, substance abuse and unstable family environment). There are various effects of ACE’s; chronic health problems, mental illness and substance use problems in adulthood. ACE can also have a lasting negative impact on education, job opportunities and earning potential. Many of the current laws do not focus much on the psychological dimension. Further, transition planning is needed for children after the age of 16 that gives them skills to live independently which is also missing. Access to mental health services declines during the transition. The number of youth seeking professional help for mental health is extremely low in Care Leavers (CLs).


In order to achieve a holistic learning and educational environment there should be an amalgamation of positive and negative liberties in such learning spaces. Furthermore, addressing this issue is paramount to halting the cascading consequences of stunted development for children transitioning out of care, who often find themselves ill-equipped to navigate the challenges of the outside world.


Relationship between CCIs and Care Leavers

Many CLs haven't developed skills that are foundational to survive in the adult phases of their lives. This includes - 


  • Independent living skills -  one third of the care leavers felt that they lacked these skills


  • Social Skills- 40% of care leavers lack of social skills 


  • Education and Vocational Skills - Many CLs have not received skill training in one or more employability related skills in CCIs. Further 40% of all CLs could not complete their schooling. 24 CLs across five states had also not obtained education beyond primary schooling. One out of five CLs were not able to continue education as per their wishes.


  • Miscellaneous skills- Many of the care leavers do not have basic skills in cooking, household management and disaster management. 


The need for holistic education imparting growth and development for these children becomes of utmost importance. There are some ways in which the government has tried to engage in overcoming these disparities -


Individual Care Plan- There is a new system of the individual care plan which is essentially a development plan, modified based on parameters of children that are based on age as well as gender specific needs. It is done to restore the child’s self esteem and self worth. 


The plan focuses on the following parameters - 

  • Emotional and Psychological needs 

  • Health and Nutrition needs 

  • Leisure creativity and play 

  • Protection from all kinds of abuse, neglect and maltreatment 

  • Social Mainstreaming 

  • Life skill training 

  • Restoration and follow up 

Other developments have been in the form of the creation of a portal called the Track Child Portal that provides an integrated virtual space which helps in tracking a “child in distress”. The JJR should provide for at least one Single Window Support Centre for CLs in every district of every state. Even though these steps are in the right direction however I feel a mindset change is much needed in the populace which would inculcate the features of change management and behavioral change to bring any form of development in inclusive education for children in CCIs.


My Vision: Breaking the Elusive Myth

Education and learning for children in CCIs is a huge responsibility as one has to fathom and create a learning environment not only in educational institutions but also in the CCIs.


The primary environment for these children are these institutions and the secondary environment are the schools. Thus the caregivers should be able to impart important life lessons to the children and ensure the building of their self esteem as well as their willingness to learn and overcome emotional and psychological distress and ensure the overall development of a child.


For CLs, career counseling must be established and consistent support must be imparted to them for any job opportunities or higher education. 


Another way is creating a strong network and community of CLs helping each other as well as helping the current children in CCIs and giving them opportunities to become mentors for the children. There is a long way to go for the  amalgamation of negative and positive liberties or the traditional and non-traditional notions of education and an even  longer way to achieve the idealized version of both notions of education. However I am a strong believer in incremental change and even if one tries to do something at an individual level as small as taking out some time to teach children even once a week, I believe it can go a long way, and create bonds with communities outside our prismatic bubbles thereby dethroning the myth that inclusive education is a myth by the creation of small physical and mental prototypes of educational centers. Cross community interaction will generate more understanding and a mindset shift resulting in change management and behavioral change.


“I knocked at my door

It was my didi who opened the door

She had a huge smile as I entered her home

She was ready with the lesson I was intimidated by

But she also prepared my favorite snack for us to share 

After the lesson came to an end

We both bid goodbye

AND 

She gave me a key as well to our home”


 

Columnist Anushka Gaur

 

References:

  1. Article 39 in The Constitution Of India 1949.” Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/555882/. Accessed 30 January 2023.

  2. Objectives and approach of Child Care Institutions — Vikaspedia.” Vikaspedia, https://vikaspedia.in/education/child-rights/living-conditions-in-institutions-for-children-in-conflict-with-law/objectives-and-approach-of-child-care-institutions. Accessed 30 January 2023. 

  3. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007.” Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/143580973/. Accessed 30 January 2023. 

  4. Introduction.” Udayan Care, https://www.udayancare.org/upload/4pagers/Research%20Insight-Beyond%2018-4pager.pdf. Accessed 30 January 2023. 

  5. 5. Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/fastfact.html. Accessed 30 January 2023

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