Thursday, 28 February 2013

A plea for Inclusion of Autistic children in mainstream Education in India

Aspergers concept  Stock Photo - 10333869

The modern concept of Inclusive Education presupposes the idea of including students not only from different sections of the society but also differing abilities and capabilities. When we talk about the right to education today, we should think  of not only of the rights of economically underprivileged children, but also the rights of special children who are differently abled. A lot more needs to be done  to integrate children suffering from Autism  into the mainstream education at the school level.This can, to some extent be observed in the board papers of the C.B.S.E. that include separate questions for the visually impaired students. These can be read by the scribe and easily followed by the differently abled child. The board however needs to address the issue of allowing Autistic children to appear in the board exams according to their capabilities. While some pioneering schools have done a lot to include autistic children into the  regular school program, (and I have observed that some of these Autistic Children are highly motivated and intelligent learners, with a good memory and understanding of abstract concepts,) a lot more needs to be done by other schools! Exams at all grade levels should be engineered to cater to Autistic children and others with special needs. Looking at the existing trends, it is high time the education boards in the country did more about incorporating changes in the regular board exams at the class tenth and twelfth levels to include a wider range of students with special needs. Separate sections could be included within the blue prints of the existing question papers which would be addressed specifically to these students!

A few possible suggestions (as told to me by one of my colleagues) for incorporating reforms in the examination system for autistic children are listed as follows:

1. Adult prompters (special educators or counselor or Para-educators) should be appointed as scribes instead of a junior student (including board exam etc)

2.  Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) testing at least to the tune of seventy per cent with the rest being made up of fill up the blanks/match the following / true - false etc, could be incorporated. These could be taken up from the lower grades, going all the way till they exit the school.

3.  The presence of a prompter even for practical exams due to sensory and sensory issues would be a welcome step towards making the examination system more inclusive to differently-abled students.

4. There could be a relaxation in the upper age limit for Autistic students appearing for the tenth grade C.B.S.E. exams.

6. Flexibility should be given to students with special need with reference to the timings     
    and dates for appearing for the exams.

7. A modification and adaptation in the syllabus of each grade to include students with
    special needs will go a long way in including them in our examination system.

8. A modification and adaptation will have to be made in the existing examination system
    including the weight age of the formative and summative assessments till class tenth.

9. Modifications in all papers sent from the Education Boards.

10. Concessions for checking of papers of differently-abled children.

While it is true, that these steps will go a long way towards including students with special needs more effectively in our formal educational system, much more needs to be done. This would entail appointing special education teachers, having a separate facility for differently abled children, (although the idea would be to integrate them into the mainstream curriculum) and of course sensitizing the general public and other students towards our special students. I was prompted to write this article by Mrs. Ridhi Lodha, a special education instructor who accompanied one of our special students a brilliant and intelligent student appearing for the class eighth summative assessment paper. He will be the first student with special needs to who would be joining the mainstream in class ninth, and, hopefully, he would be appearing in the C.B.S.E’s class tenth exams after two years! I have had the opportunity of observing him at close quarters and could never tell that he was differently abled! I always saw him as a remarkably intelligent and well informed student of the school. His confidence while writing the paper, incidentally English amazed me, and what is more, he even filled up a supplementary answer sheet! Looking at him answering the questions with great confidence, one wonders why he shouldn’t attempt even the class twelfth board exams in a few years from now!

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