There has been a lot of debate on the draft of new policy on education. Many analysts have exposed loopholes and contradictions in the policy.
Though the government has eloquently spoken of ‘Divyang’ – disabled persons possessing ‘divine limbs’ and powers,even the ‘ access’ contents, considered as ‘a key guiding principle’ by the Draft has not been made available in Braille or audio version. This is the result of ‘ Accessible India’ campaign!!
The plight of disabled children in India can be understood from the UNESCO’s State of the Education Report for India 2019. It point out that ‘ among 5 – year olds with disabilities, three fourths do not go to any educational institution. Nor do one- fourth of the CWD population aged between 5 and 19. (Access Denied, written by Muralidharan, updated July 30 , 2019, indianexpress.com). The number of children enrolled in schools drops significantly with each successive level of schooling. The report also states that the proportion of children with disabilities who are out of school is much higher than the over all proportion of out-of-school children at the national level.
The Draft NEP , with its thrust on commercial and corporate education, will worsen the situation for disabled children. The majority of disabled are economically backward and come from marginalised sections. The idea of either closing down or merging schools to create school complexes may adversely impact the disabled as the schools may be situated far away and inaccessible to most of handicapped children.
The NEP has not recognized fully implication of Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act 2016 and ‘access’ has been understood in traditional terms like provision of ramps and toilets. Special needs for specific disabilities like visual aids, hearing aids, wheelchair , etc seems to have been left out in the policy. In terms f physical access, only 22.4% of school s have disabled- friendly toilets and in about 20% of schools , ramps are absent where the ramps are required.
Difficulties facing disabled in higher schools and colleges have not been discussed in the DNEP at length. While fixing parameters for standards , special attention for additional assistance to specific disabilities has also not been analysed.
Therefore, there is a need for introspection by the government and consider problems of handicapped children more elaborately while finalising the policy. The difficulties of handicapped are diverse and vary according to nature and extent of disability. Unless they are addressed, inclusive education may remain a mirage and disabled might have to suffer for accessing good and quality educa- tion – both primary and higher studies. Many may remain far away from education and employment if the apathy continues.
Sheshu Babu is a political commentator