While the RTE is a welcome step, its practical implications would sweep away teachers who are not trained or equipped to impart physical, mental and social skills to different classes of students, including children with disabilities
They say reality bites. Well, the practical realities are about to bite down hard on lakhs of school teachers across the country as their schools struggle to comply with the mandates of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009. For instance, take a look through the eyes of Mumbai school teachers Manpreet Kaur, Rekha Vadloori and Gorretti (pronounced ‘Gertie’) Sequeira. For four hours every morning, the three are on their toes, imparting physical, mental and social skills to about 40 preschool children at Guru Harkrishan School, 17th Road, Khar. They are veterans, having taught children for well over two decades, and they know their job extremely well. It is physically and mentally exhausting; Gorretti’s varicose veins bear evidence of the fact that she barely gets a chance to sit down.
Onwards from the next academic year, their job will become even more demanding. Because, as mandated by the RTE Act, about one-fourth of the students between the ages of six and 14 will be from disadvantaged section of the society—like children with disabilities, children of migrant labourers, etc. And the teachers will have to impart knowledge to them along with the ‘normal’ children, and not segregate them in any way. Compare this classroom with the ones that you may have studied in, where any child who deviated from the physical, mental and economic norms of the school was never admitted.
Parents and teachers are not yet fully aware of this nationwide change, which is about to hit them like a tidal wave. Undoubtedly, the RTE Act will encourage a more egalitarian society, and give children unrestricted access to education, which is their fundamental right. Let us look at the new demands that are about to be placed on ordinary school teachers, and an important challenge and opportunity that the new scenario will throw up.
Do Manpreet, Rekha and Gorretti know how to manage with, say, a child with autism who repeatedly bangs his head on the desk daily and wanders off into neighbouring classrooms? Or, say, a born-hearing-impaired child who cannot hear instructions, but tends to make vocalizations that can divert the attention of all his normal classmates?
Yes, Gorretti already has two differently-abled children in her class, who come to class accompanied by “shadow teachers” sent by the parents. One child tugs on Goretti’s sleeve several times a day and asks cutely, “Teacher, will you teach me?” Not all shadow teachers are trained professionals, and they are not very highly paid. Naturally, they are barely interested in the classroom curriculum. Some of them have a hard time to keep from dozing off! These grown-ups are a constant presence in Gorretti's classroom, and their numbers may rise next year onwards. The RTE Act has mandated that all children with special needs must compulsorily be admitted to regular schools regardless of nature and severity of their disabilities. They must be admitted even if their parents cannot afford to retain specially-trained shadow teachers, or provide them with the bare necessities such as wheelchairs and hearing-aids.
The writing on the wall is clear. Lakhs of experienced teachers will have to learn new skills essential for dealing with special children, and for including them with the children in mainstream schools.
Overall, the demand for capable school teachers and also training facilities in inclusive education is about to shoot up. The RTE Act itself specifies pre-service training in inclusive education and in-service training for mainstream school teachers.
In Mumbai, one place where such training is available is ADAPT (formerly known as Spastic Society of India). At ADAPT, special teacher-training and orientation is offered for teachers and would-be teachers in association with Helen O’Grady International (HOGI), a learning company.
Meet Monisha Herani, the young lady from HOGI who is currently equipping a batch of women teacher trainees with the theoretical and practical skills for dealing with children—both normal and special. “The people who come to us for training are from all walks of life3housewives as well as professionals and women entrepreneurs who see a future in education,” says Monisha.
“My current batch has women between the ages of 24 and 55. What fascinates them is the three hours of practical hands-on work with children, acting as assistant teachers to many other experienced teachers at the schools where we have a tie-up. At ADAPT, they get hands-on training and a chance to observe how to deal with special children in the correct way. And during the three hours of solid theoretical classroom work that we do, whatever they learn and observe during field work is discussed and analyzed.”
ADAPT stands for “Abled Disabled All People Together”. The founder chairperson Dr Mithu Alur has always propagated inclusion as an ideology, which is now becoming a reality thanks to the RTE Act.
“Currently, the number of people attending our teacher-training courses is a thin trickle”, remarks Monisha, referring to the two courses run by HOGI at Bandra and Malad. “But we expect it to turn into a tidal wave within a year or two, when the changed reality dawns on school managements, teachers and parents. Without such practical courses conducted on a very large scale across the country, I don't see how we all will manage this transition.”
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