Being prepared to meet the challenge

Mrs Krishnaswarmy, a great matriarch of special and inclusive education in Bangalore. A lady from whom I have learned much over the past 15 years

Mrs Krishnaswamy, a great matriarch of special and inclusive education in Bangalore. A lady from whom I have learned much over the past 15 years

On my first visit to Bangalore in 2000 I was invited to speak to teachers and parents at a number of events in and near to the city. It was during this initial visit to India, facilitated through the hospitality of my dear friend Satish Inamdar that I first met Indian colleagues who have since become close friends, and with whom I have been working ever since those first sessions in the country. Jayashree Rajanahally has become a good family friend and has worked tirelessly to enable us to develop courses and networks with teachers and parents in south India and has been an influential figure in shaping the work that we do together on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education in the country. Her quiet influence has been an inspiration to myself and many others as we have worked together in India.

Throughout the world I meet individuals whose drive and tenacity have been critical in establishing provision, support and training for those concerned for children from marginalised populations. As I consider the latest UNESCO Global Monitoring Report I reflect upon the work of these dedicated professionals and the impact that they are having on the lives of families. One such person is Mrs Rukmini Krishnaswamy who for more years than she cares to remember has been training teachers to work with children who have been rejected from schools and in some cases excluded from the basics that we would wish for all children. Mrs K still has immense energy, though her mobility is not as good as it has been in the past. She visits villages in remote areas to work with some of the poorest families in Karnataka State and continues to provide training to hundreds of teachers each year. Her commitment was to the fore of my mind as I read sections of the UNESCO report that considers the necessity to provide quality training for teachers.

The report indicates that the numbers of available teachers in poorer countries has increased but that the quality of teaching is often limited as a result of the provision of unqualified or poorly trained teachers.

“Many countries have expanded teacher numbers rapidly by hiring people to teach without training. This may serve to get more children into school, but jeopardizes education quality. In a third of countries with data, less than 75% of teachers are trained according to national standards”.

In India the situation for the poorest children in rural areas is exacerbated because of the difficulty of attracting the best qualified teachers to teach in deprived communities. Despite the introduction of government incentives it is reported that:-

“In India, all states have a caste-based reservation of posts to ensure that teachers are available in more disadvantaged areas and schools, but teachers with lower levels of qualifications are hired to fill the reserved positions”.

Whilst it is easy to be critical of this situation the authors of the report recognise that:-

“In India, states cannot fill their caste-based quotas for recruitment of teachers unless teachers with lower levels of qualifications are hired”.

I regularly meet well educated and qualified teachers in India, but the majority of these are working in private schools where resources and conditions for working are reasonable. Whereas my visits to some government and village schools indicate that there is little incentive for any but the most committed and altruistic teachers to work there. In these schools teachers are often accused of failing children and providing them with a less than adequate schooling experience. Yet many of these teachers demonstrate a real commitment to their pupils and are doing their best to provide for them with only minimal training and often in overcrowded classrooms with inadequate resources. The report identifies an issue that I have seen many times in the poorer areas of India when it suggests that:-

“Instead of getting adequate training and teaching conditions, teachers get the blame for poor learning outcomes”.

However, the picture is not entirely bad. There is an increasing recognition that the professional development of teachers is crucial to ensuring that all learners gain access to a curriculum that is meaningful and an education to equip them for life in their local communities and beyond. The teachers who I meet are enthusiastic about developing pedagogical approaches that enable them to support previously excluded pupils. There is a growing acknowledgement in India of the rights of all children to gain an education that addresses their individual needs, and whilst I still encounter negative attitudes, I am as likely to meet teachers who want to learn new skills and teaching strategies to enable all the children in their communities to learn. My own experience certainly recognises the statement in the report that:-

“Education strategies increasingly recognize the importance of accommodating children with disabilities in mainstream schools. However, more needs to be done to implement them effectively by adopting measures such as addressing attitudes of teachers and head teachers through training, and designing curricula that pay attention to the needs of disabled learners.”

Whilst the report finds much wanting in the provision of quality teaching for children in the most deprived areas, and recognises that teacher confidence in respect of addressing the needs of learners with disabilities or other disadvantages is often low, there are several examples of innovation and progress provided upon which we can all build.

I am fortunate to work with groups of teachers in Bangalore who are focused upon improving the experiences of every child. These are the future leaders of education in south India and I feel confident that they have the ability to take their own learning forward and share it with others for the benefit of all children.

It seems to me that colleagues like Mrs Krishnaswarmy and Jayashree Rajanahally have pioneered a way forward towards a more inclusive education system in Bangalore. I feel assured that there are others now waiting to take over the baton of leadership and to take the agenda on into a brighter future for all learners.

Click on the blue YOUTUBE link at the top of this page to see a brief film produced in association with the UNESCO report

You can download a full copy of the report from:



9 thoughts on “Being prepared to meet the challenge

  1. People like Mrs Krishnaswarmy get nowhere near the recognition they deserve. Goof for you for letting the world know, Richard. Think of how many kids they have helped over the years!

    • Hi Tim,
      Yes I agree. There are so many unsung heroes and heroines out there who simply get on and do excellent work without due recognition. We have all met them and maybe we need to ensure that they are recognised for the tremendous contribution they have made to the lives of children and families.

  2. the inspiration is mutual Richard!! Though Ido not really think I have done anything at all!! Mrs K has been my inspiration ever since I entered the field of special education. Though I was almost on the brink of dropping it all she helped to restore faith in myself by seeking me out to do work for her and help me push and believe in myself. I always call her the Mother of Special Needs movement in India – the Gandhi of it!!
    Teachers need more recognition for what they are dioing rather than what they are not!! The Amarnath Inclusion Award given by Brindavan to teachers who have made their mark on the lives of children to move forward inclusion is a step to acknowledge this. We see the positive energy and zeal in the efforts of teachers in the the government school which Brindavan is working with [Mary and you have visited it Richard]. Working with numbers, least amount of resources and yet to be able to make a difference to their lives and education -hats of to these!! India like many other Asian countries stand testimony to that!!

    • Hi Jayashree,
      It is by creating partnerships that we can bring people together to achieve more. I am sure that there is a whole new generation of Mrs K’s out there and we really need to connect with them

  3. It amazes me to see a country like India where human resource is plenty and not being utilized, all that is required is appropriate allocation of these resources with required basic training. It is such an irony that India is reported to have dearth of skilled human resources….

    • Hi Sharmila,
      The quantity of resources is not an issue. It is their appropriate allocation and the identification of priorities for their use. Teachers such as yourself are fine examples of how we can most effectively direct our energy for the benefit of children and families. Keep up the good work and this will certainly be an inspiration for others.

  4. Thank you Richard for highlighting a number of important aspects here. The immensely positive side is the great work being done by people like Mrs. K., Jayashree and others. On the other hand, there is the huge deficit in the area of training, provision and allocation of adequate resources and reward (not necessarily in financial terms). Appreciation and recognition of positive steps and attitude will not only encourage the individual or group to carry on, but nudge others to follow the path and join in. Those who sign up to this agenda for change will undoubtedly face enormous pressure from the ‘other camp’ but it is forums like this which will keep the fire burning especially in a society where success is often measured in terms of one’s pay-cheque and position in the hierarchy. Although these are not bad at all, the trouble is that often they are the only criteria.

    Accountability is an absolute necessity, particularly when one is entrusted with the life and formation of another individual – the child, but adequate training and resource should be made available before demanding accountability. Great to see from Richard account that a lot of unsung heroes are doing just that. Amazing!!
    I am sure it will spread and any way, evolution takes a long time…and we are talking of a lot of people here!

  5. Hi Benny,
    Thanks for these perceptive comments. I hardly need to remind an Indian of the words of Gandhiji – but I will anyway

    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

    Part of the difficulty has been that most sit back and expect others to take some action and responsibility. Leaders like Mrs Krishnaswami and Jayashree Rajanahally have taken important steps towards improving the situation. Most importantly, they are working hard to take others along with them.

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