Disability Studies Quarterly
Winter 2005, Volume 25, No. 1
<www.dsq-sds.org>
Copyright 2005 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Integrated Education in India: Challenges and Prospects

Umesh Sharma, Ph.D.
Faculty of Education, Monash University, Clayton
Victoria, Australia
E-mail: umesh.sharma@education.monash.edu.au

Joanne Deppeler, Ph.D.
Faculty of Education, Monash University, Clayton
Victoria, Australia


Introduction

India has made impressive economic gains in the last few decades and currently has the 4th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. Despite this improvement, more than 260 million people in India live in poverty. The reciprocity of poverty producing disability, and disability resulting in poverty (Rao, 1990) creates unique challenges for the integrated education movement in India. This paper begins with a brief history of special education in India, including changes to government legislation and policy in the move towards more integrated educational provision. A number of strategies are presented to address the current challenges that Indian administrators and educators face in the move towards more integrated education.

Inclusive and integrated education

With the release of the Salamanca Statement in 1994 (UNESCO), a large number of developing countries started reformulating their policies to promote the inclusion of students with disabilities into mainstream schools. While a large number of developed countries (e.g. USA, Canada, Australia) now have policies or laws promoting "inclusive education," a number of developing countries continue to provide educational services to students with disabilities in "segregated" schools. Typically, inclusive education means "that students with disabilities are served primarily in the general education settings, under the responsibility of [a] regular classroom teacher. When necessary and justifiable, students with disabilities may also receive some of their instruction in another setting, such as [a] resource room" (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2004, p.7). Historically, many educational systems have adopted an integrated education model as an interim approach in the move towards inclusive education. In the "integrated education" model "whenever possible, students with disabilities attend a regular school". The emphasis, however, is upon the student to fit the system rather than the system to adapt to meet the educational needs of a student. In India, "integrated education" has been provided mainly to students with mild disabilities who are considered "easy" to include into regular school programs. Students with severe disabilities, in a majority of cases, do not attend a school, or in rare cases, attend a special school.

From Segregated to Integrated Education

Caring for "the old, the sick and the disabled" is a part of the cultural heritage of India (Karna, 1999; Ministry of Welfare, 1997; Singh, 2001). Exploring the roots of welfare services for persons with disabilities, Karna states:

From time immemorial, it has been the part and parcel of the cultural heritage of India to provide help and sustenance to the poor and destitute. . . . The Hindu religion emphasised the value of compassion, charity, philanthropy and mutual aid. The guild system, as existed in ancient India, also contributed to the promotion of such practices for the disadvantaged strata of society. (p. 27)

The custom of joint family and kinship provided an in-built mechanism to support such practices. According to Miles (2000), rudimentary attempts to educate students with disabilities were made in India long before such attempts were made in Europe. He cites, for example, that specially adapted curricula was used 2000 years earlier as evidenced by children's toys that were excavated in diggings in Taxila. Also, the ancient "gurukul" system of education that existed in India for centuries was sensitive to the unique cultural, social, and economic needs of the students and their families and imparted life skills education recognizing the potential within each student (Singh, 2001). However, these educational and rehabilitation practices were lost during the colonial period (Singh, 2001).

The formal education of children with disabilities began in India in 1869 when Jane Leupot, with the support of the Church Missionary Society, started a school for "blind students" in Benares (Miles, 1997). Miles also reported that the first formal school for children with intellectual and physical disabilities was established in the eastern part of India in Kurseong in 1918.

The education of children with disabilities in segregated settings continued well after India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, with various non-government organizations assuming increasing responsibility for their education. By 1966 there were 115 schools for students with a visual impairment, 70 schools for students with a hearing impairment, 25 schools for students with an orthopedic disability and 27 schools for students with an intellectual disability (Aggarwal, 1994). According to Pandey & Advani (1997), by 1991 there were about 1,200 special schools for students with various types of disabilities in India.

One of the major initiatives from the Government of India to promote "integrated education" is the program of Integrated Education of Disabled Children (IEDC). In 1974, the Ministry of Welfare, Central Government of India, initiated the IEDC program to promote the integration of students with mild to moderate disabilities into regular schools. The program was also designed to promote the retention of children with disabilities in the regular school system. Children were to be provided with financial support for books, stationery, school uniforms, transportation, special equipment and aids. The state governments were provided with 50 percent of the financial assistance to implement this program in regular schools. However, the program met with little success. Rane (1983), in his evaluation of this program in the State of Maharashtra, reported that (a) the non-availability of trained and experienced teachers, (b) lack of orientation among regular school staff about the problems of disabled children and their educational needs, and (c) the non-availability of equipment and educational materials were major factors in the failure of the program. Also, a lack of coordination among the various departments to implement the scheme was another major factor in the failure of the IEDC plan (Azad, 1996; Pandey & Advani, 1997). Mani (1988) reported that by 1979-80, only 1,881 children from 81 schools all over the country had benefited from this program.

Due to its shortcomings, the IEDC program was revised in 1992. Under the revised scheme, 100 percent assistance became available to schools involved in the "integration" of students with disabilities. Various non-government organizations are now fully funded to implement the program. According to the most recent estimates, the IEDC is being implemented in 26 States and Union Territories, serving more than 53,000 students enrolled in 14,905 schools (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 2000). In this regard, Kerala has shown remarkable success. The IEDC program is implemented in 4,487 schools in this state with 12,961 children being served (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 2000).

In 1987, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), in association with UNICEF and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) developed the Project for Integrated Education for the Disabled (PIED). The aim of the project was to strengthen the IEDC plan (NCERT, 1987). Instead of confining the program to a particular institution or school, PIED adopted a "Composite Area Approach" that converted all regular schools within a specified area, referred to as a block, into integrated schools. These schools had to share resources such as specialized equipment, instructional materials and special education teachers. One key aspect of the project was the teacher training component. The teacher training program, available to teachers in each selected block, followed a three-level training approach:

  1. a five day orientation course for all the teachers in the regular schools,
  2. a six-week intensive training course for 10 percent of the teachers, and
  3. a one-year multi-category training program for eight to ten regular school teachers.

The teachers who completed the one-year multi-category training program were required to act as resource teachers.

This project produced several positive results. Jangira and Ahuja (1993) reported that as a result of improved program planning and better management skills now made available to the teachers, the capacity of various states to implement integration programs was enhanced. Both regular school teachers and students became more receptive toward students with disabilities (Azad, 1996). About 13,000 children with disabilities received educational services in regular schools (Azad, 1996). More than 9,000 teachers received training to work with disabled students in integrated settings (Azad, 1996). The success of the PIED project led to an increased commitment by the Department of Education to integrate students with disabilities (Jangira & Ahuja, 1993).

In 1996, the Government of India enacted the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act (PWD Act) of 1995 (Ministry of Law Justice and Company Affairs, 1996). The Act provided for both preventive and promotional aspects of rehabilitation. It covered such aspects as education, employment, non-discrimination, prevention and early detection, social security, research and manpower development, and affirmative action. Seven categories of disability were covered in the legislation, namely "blindness," "low vision," "leprosy cured," "hearing impairment," "locomotor disability," "mental retardation" and "mental illness."

The PWD Act required the Central, State, and Union Territory Governments to ensure that all children with disabilities had access to a "free and appropriate" education until the age of 18 years. It also called upon these three tiers of Government to promote "integrated education." The Act outlined a comprehensive education scheme to provide transportation facilities, remove architectural barriers, supply free books and other study materials, grant scholarships, restructure curriculum, and modify the examinations system for the benefit of children with special needs. In order to expand educational opportunities for children with disabilities, the Central Government, in its last Five-Year Plan (1997-2002), set aside 1,000 million rupees specifically for the provision of integrated education (Ministry of Welfare, 1997; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 2000).

Baquer & Sharma (1997) considered the passage of the PWD Act as a landmark step in the history of rehabilitation services in India. They stated:

In a country like India the numbers of disabled are so large, their problems so complex, available resources so scarce and social attitudes so damaging, it is only legislation which can eventually bring about a substantial change in a uniform manner. Although legislation cannot alone radically change the fabric of a society in a short span of time, it can nevertheless, increase accessibility of the disabled to education and employment, to public buildings and shopping centres, to means of transport and communication. (p. 274)

If fully implemented, this Act has the potential to change the educational status of more than 30 million children with disabilities who currently do not have access to any form of education. However, providing education to such a vast number of children with disabilities in the world's second most populated country will require a number of challenges and issues to be addressed at both the macro and micro levels of Indian society.

Challenges to implement integrated education

The challenge of poverty associated with disability: With an estimated 1,027 million people, India is the world's second most populated country. It has 17 percent of the global population and 20 percent of the world's out-of-school children. Despite impressive gains in the last few decades (11th largest industrial power, 4th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity) India still has more than 260 million people living in poverty (Canadian International Development Agency [CIDA]. 2003). A large number of children with disabilities live in families with income significantly below the poverty level. According to Rao (1990), while disability causes poverty, it is also possible that in a country like India, poverty causes disability. The combination of poverty and disability results in a condition of "simultaneous deprivation." According to Harriss-White (1996), this is a syndrome that sets up barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities in the normal routines and activities of the community, including regular schooling. Recently, the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, has allocated 3 percent funds in poverty alleviation programs targeting families of children with disabilities (B.L. Sharma, 2001). However, motivating poor families, with all the associated costs to send their child to school, is proving to be a big challenge.

The challenge of modifying deeply held attitudes: Attitudes of the non-disabled are proving to be a major barrier in the social integration of persons with disabilities. "The more severe and visible the deformity is, the greater is the fear of contagion, hence the attitudes of aversion and segregation towards the crippled" (Desai,1990, p.19). Such attitudes reinforced by religious institutions may militate against any attempts to include students with disabilities into regular schools. For example, Hindus (who constitute 85 percent of the total population in India) believe that disability is a consequence of misdeeds performed in the previous life (often referred to as the doctrine of Karma). Many Hindu religious institutions and temple trusts, therefore, do not think a part of their duty is to help persons with disabilities, because they consider the disability to be the result of a person's misdeeds in his previous life (Rao, 1990). Any attempts to improve the life of a person with a disability may be considered a "defiance of the wills of Allah or as interference with a person's karma" (Harriss-White, 1996, p.7 [also see Miles, 1995]). Alur (2001), in her study found that disability in India is not seen as something "normal" or "natural," rather it is seen as an "evil eye." Guilt, stigma and different kinds of fears tend to be paramount in such families. She further concludes that "the contradiction here was that Indian society, although integrated in accepting and valuing diversity in so many ways, has a social role construct of disability which is negative, discriminatory and exclusionary"(n.p.). Kannan, (2000), states that in order to harness the great potential of more than 30 million people with disabilities, it is essential that "prejudice, mental and irrational myths concerning disability, is eradicated."

Dissemination and public education: People, including parents and school personnel, are largely unaware of the full intent of the recent legislation passed by Indian Parliament. A large number of school personnel are also not aware of funding available to include students with disabilities in regular schools. There is some evidence that those educators who are knowledgeable about government policies and laws concerning integrated education tend to have positive attitudes toward implementing such programs (U. Sharma, 2001). There is also evidence when parents are knowledgeable and supportive of integrated education, they tend to have a positive effect on school personnel (U. Sharma, 2001). Thus, unless people, especially parents of children with disabilities and school personnel, are made knowledgeable about the various provisions enshrined in the Act, the Central and State governments' commitment to providing integrated education will be in vain. Although some attempts are being made to disseminate information about the Persons with Disabilities Act to parents, to government officials and non government organizations (B. L. Sharma, 2001), they have been extremely limited in coverage (Chatterjee, 2003).

There is also a greater need to have a National Resource Center for Disabilities. Such a center would work to collect, and disseminate information on various aspects of disability (B.L. Sharma, 2001). The center would provide information through various TV and radio programs as well as through internet (B.L. Sharma, 2001). The center would also fulfil the role of scrutinizing all mass communication programs (TV, radio and even entertainment programs) to ensure that disability is not portrayed in a negative manner.

The center could also start documentary projects (e.g. video programs) that feature inclusion being implemented in different parts of India. Such programs are likely to make a positive impact on school educators who often believe that inclusion can work only in Western or developed countries.

The challenge of providing adequate levels of training to key stakeholders: The majority of school personnel in India are not trained to design and implement educational programs for students with disabilities in regular schools. Most teacher training programs in India do not have a unit on Disability Studies (Myreddi & Narayan, 2000). The universities, which do cover some aspects of special education in their teacher training programs, fail to train teachers adequately to work in integrated settings. For example, there is limited coverage of information about practical strategies (Myreddi & Narayan, 2000). Also, placement of pre-service teachers in special or integrated schools is rarely given consideration (Jangira, Singh, & Yadav, 1995).

Great variations are noted in the content, process, and examination of existing special education programs as well in the country (Myreddi & Narayan, 2000). However, the situation may improve in the coming years as the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) will periodically evaluate special education programs to ensure that each program meets minimum standards (Rehabilitation Council of India, 1996). The number of trained special educators is also limited. The most recent report of the Rehabilitation Council of India (1996) states that the number of trained special education teachers is extremely small considering the number of children with disabilities that require their services. At the time of the publication of this report there were only 9,492 specially trained teachers. Of these, 4,295 were trained to teach students with mental retardation, 1,079 were trained to teach students with visual disabilities, 4,011 were trained to teach students with hearing impairments, and 107 were trained to teach students with locomotor disabilities in India. To address this severe shortage of trained teachers, the Rehabilitation Council of India recommended that an additional 44,000 teachers needed to be trained by the end of the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1997-2002). However, it should be noted that even if these targets were to be achieved, only 10 percent of the population of children with disabilities would be served (Rehabilitation Council of India, 1996). RCI must consider reformulating existing teacher training programs for special educators, with a greater emphasis on integrated education. Special educators could be a key resource as they can be used to train regular school educators in implementing integrated education. They can also act as an itinerant teachers working in partnership with a number of regular school educators to advise them on practical issues related to education of students with disabilities.

Inadequate resources: The majority of schools in India are poorly designed and few are equipped to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities. The lack of disability friendly transportation services and accessible buildings are considered by some to be far greater problems than social prejudice and negative attitudes (for example, Chatterjee, 2003). Both the Central and State governments will have to provide increased resources to this aspect of education to ensure successful implementation of integrated practices in schools.

Over and above some of these challenges that India shares with other developing countries are some distinctive features that will make the implementation of educational reform particularly difficult. India is a multilingual, multicultural, multireligious country, and its people are stratified along sharp socio-economic and caste lines. Therefore, unless the challenges are carefully identified and systematically addressed, inclusion will remain a policy on paper. The forthcoming section presents some strategies that policy makers in India may find useful to implement integrated education successfully.

Possible strategies to address some of the challenges

Training of teachers: If integrated education is to become a reality in India, then the training of teachers has to become a top priority. The educational authorities in India may adopt a policy of training one teacher from each school or a cluster of schools. The teacher would need to be provided with intensive training to work with various disabilities and could then act as an integration specialist or an inclusion facilitator for one or a number of schools located in close proximity. A similar strategy has already worked well in certain parts of India when several school teachers were specifically trained to work in integrated settings under the PIED program and is recommended by several researchers in India (Jangira, 1995; Jha, 2002; Myreddi & Narayan, 2000). Also in-service teachers would need continued training to update their skills and knowledge of integrated education strategies.

It is clear that regular school educators need training in issues related to the implementation of integrated education. A question that arises with regard to such training is the identification of the specific content that should be included in these training programs. Given the enormous diversity in India (cultural, linguistic, socio-economic, etc.), further research is clearly warranted. Sharma (1992) suggest that the curriculum for pre-service training programs should be carefully developed, incorporating feedback from special and regular educators. Some research has been conducted in India that points out that educators need basic skills, professional knowledge, communication and interaction skills (K. Sharma, 1992; U. Sharma & Pillay, 1997), knowledge about assessment techniques, and resource management (Das & Pillay, 1999), knowledge of multigrade teaching, instructional techniques, and peer-tutoring and cooperative learning techniques to include students with disabilities into regular classes.

Need to design innovative system of training: Several authors have cautioned that India will not be able to successfully implement integrated educational services unless regular school educators are trained at mass scale. comments on this situation as follows: "the number of persons who need training is very large and the conventional training methods cannot simply meet the requirements." Therefore, there is a need to design some innovative models to train educators at mass level. One possibility to educate such a large number of teachers is by using Distance Open Learning or DOL (Ramanujam, 2001). Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has a history of successfully running courses for a larger number of students using DOL mode. IGNOU, in association with Rehabilitation Council of India, is considering offering various courses to the trainers of children with disabilities, including teachers. It is expected that such training, accompanied with ongoing in-service training, would prove very useful for school educators. It would, however, be important that practical aspects of implementing integrated education form a key part of any such course.

Need for collaboration between different ministries: Different ministries in India administer various services for persons with disabilities (Alur, 2001). For example, while "integrated education" is the responsibility of Ministry of Human Resource Development, education in special schools is the responsibility of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. This is just one example of the waste of already limited resources. India cannot afford to have such administrative arrangements. There is a need for streamlining administrative arrangements so that funds provided to different ministries for persons with disabilities can be used effectively.

Involve NGO's in implementing integrated education programs: There are more than one million NGO's working in India (Canadian International Development Agency, 2003). Although not all of them are working in the education sector, a large number still provide educational services to children with disabilities. These organizations can play a significant role in implementing integrated education because they are widely located in India and can serve both urban and rural school communities. Unfortunately, a large majority of NGOs still believe that segregated education is the best way to educate students with disabilities (Alur, 2001). It would, therefore, be necessary to train the key stakeholders in these NGO's about the benefits of integrated education as well as practical aspects of implementing integrated education in regular schools.

Establish an alternate system of examination: Most school educators in India are concerned that integration of students with disabilities would result in lowering school standards because these students won't be able to pass exams (U. Sharma & Desai, 2002). This seems to be a genuine concern of teachers because it can influence their promotion. Thus, it is necessary to establish an alternative system of examination for students with disabilities. Such an examination system is already in practice in the USA. Students in this system are asked to do activities that demonstrate their abilities rather than disabilities. It is expected that teachers in India would feel more comfortable including students with disabilities in their classrooms if such a system existed.

School-university partnership: The multilingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious nature of India is often cited as a challenge in implementing any educational reforms. Local universities in each of the States and Union Territories may play a significant role in overcoming this challenge. Pilot projects involving local schools could be initiated by universities to explore strategies that may be appropriate for each region. Also, texts on practical strategies can be produced in the common language spoken by educators in each of the States.

Evidence from a number of Western countries indicates that such collaborative projects can produce positive results for students with disabilities as well as for school educators. An example of one such project is the Learning Improves in Networking Communities (LINC) program that was conducted in partnership between the Catholic Education Commission, Victoria (CECV) and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. The project was geared to identify the factors within the school environment that most effectively contribute to successful integrated practices, building learning communities and to positive student learning outcomes and learning opportunities. A collaborative inquiry approach was employed with approximately 45 teachers undertaking a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Special Education) in eight primary and secondary schools over the three-year study (2001-2003). The school-based professional development was focused on priorities identified by the schools themselves, linking teacher evidence-based practice to student outcomes. Results highlighted a shift away from a "special needs" delivery approach to disabilities, towards one that emphasizes collaboration, critical reflection and evidence-gathering for the purpose of informing instructional or organizational practices. Improvements in student outcomes were reported in all schools but value-added analysis indicates that conditions in the school context contributed to the better-than-expected improvement in two of the schools (Deppeler & Harvey, 2004; Deppeler, (In Press).

Conclusion

With the passage of The Persons with Disabilities Act in 1996, India has joined the few countries that have legislation to promote integrated education. This is a landmark step as India has now overcome a major legislative hurdle. A number of unique challenges still needs to be overcome in order to implement the key objectives enshrined in the legislation. Attitudinal barriers engrained as part of India's historical response to disability must be changed through education programs for both teachers and the general populace. These programs require financial and collaborative commitment from key national and state education stakeholders, and partnership with universities to support research-based initiatives. Success in achieving integrated education will ultimately depend on how Indian educators and educational systems can collaborate to deal with difference in India's culturally charged context.

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