By Rita Chatterjee
What is inclusion? Why do we discuss about inclusion so much these days? Why has the world opened up to inclusive practices and inclusive ideologies so vehemently in the recent past? Is it not suggestive that we, as a human race, as a civilized society have been practising exclusion exclusively?
The quest for perfection is a utopian ideology which has travelled through different phases of human history. This elusive, unachievable quest is chased like the “Sinking Star”, though it is an irredeemable battle that everyone is fighting for without any conclusive result, for centuries. However, in this quest we often forget those comrades, who remain at the periphery and remind us of the reality that this human life is not perfect but to attribute a sense of completeness and contentment in all imperfections. It is the need of the hour to accept our imperfect ways of dealing with our counterparts and to make our mind and consciousness open towards inclusion. Inclusion is not just “a way of life” but it is “the only way of life”.
As a Principal and Administrator of Apeejay School for more than three decades, I have derived personal realizations that inclusive education is not merely legislation or a popular convention or perception of the people but it is the “way of life”. Inclusive education denotes the active will of the individual whether the management or the Principal, which manifests itself into the vision and philosophy of a school, its teachers, its students and parents and all the stakeholders. It leads to creation of inclusive societies. It simply means, “I will be inclusive…I will help and I can help”. Once this inner will is manifested, then the legislation transforms into actuality.
However, this Inner Will has to be prevalent in the immediate environment and it has to transcend into an attitudinal acceptance among all the stakeholders starting from families, neighbourhood to schools and colleges and finally to the places where we work as employees or employers.
I was invited for a paper presentation on the theme-“Voices of the Differently Abled” by the Central Board of Secondary Education for a two day National Conference on Examination Reforms for Inclusive Education. It was extremely heartening to see that the general consciousness towards inclusive education is positive. In addition, the voices from the different zones of India have suggested the introduction of computer-aided evaluation and need-based accommodation and provisions for Children with Special Needs. The law makers have gone a step ahead in recognising and developing skills of Children with Special Needs and are willing to work relentlessly to create those millions of self-sufficient learners, who will unleash their talents and represent the logo of “Skill India” in its true sense.
In an educational institution, it has to permeate into every corner, from the man at the gate to the top management. It has to be all pervasive and then inclusion becomes a reality. If I am to narrate from my personal experience, then I often linger over the question, “Is there a particular phase when one’s attitude changes consciously?” Or is it the gradual transition of inclusive education policies into actuality that compels people to become inclusive, in practice but not necessarily in spirit.
As a Principal of Apeejay Schools, I meet parents who come to my school for admission after being rejected by most of the high profile schools, shying away from the collective responsibility towards inclusive education by citing infrastructural incompetency in handling Children with Special Needs. Under such revelations, I am forced to comment on the disillusioning dichotomy of our own system. The competitive edge of creating toppers and the so called “Cream of the society”, underplays the basic concept of making all children self-sufficient, irrespective of their diversities as learners.
The zeal to understand the needs of the diverse learners among the management, head of the institutions and the teachers compel them to create the change in the perception of the regular children and make them understand the abilities of a disabled friend, peer in the classroom. It is this change in the perception that will bring about a change in the society because inclusive education paves the path for inclusive societies. However, there are various aspects that need reformation and it has to start from the families to be more accepting and to create an active, cooperative dialogue with the school system.
As an administrator of Apeejay Schools, I have tried to broaden the purview of special education unit in my school, by involving the special educators at all levels, including the admission committee. Such measures are a direct reaction to the upsurge in the numbers of Children with Special Needs and it calls for early intervention for successful inclusion to happen. However, it does not suggest that somewhere the rehabilitation needs, special education and social inclusion needs of CWSN only falls over the shoulders of the trained staff and the others can continue to be mere spectators rather than facilitators or active participants in the process of inclusion.
Therefore, it is also imperative that the untrained staff should be equally aware and sensitised in dealing with Children with Special Needs and this includes all the teachers, attendants, security personnel, office staff and it should become the indisputable identity of the school as well as feature in the management budget sessions while making new constructions or infrastructural changes. Inclusive education has to become an integral part of the school system where it is naturally interwoven into the psychological climate of the school and it does not require any external pressure to implement it.
The spirit of inclusive education is more than rhetorical jargons but an ideology which will soon become a part of our consciousness. A successful process of inclusion requires that the community which is aware and accepting believes in the competence of the education system to respond to the needs of all students.
Mrs Chatterjee is Principal & Administrator, Apeejay Schools