Facing an inclusive dilemma

Savitha Ravi, a remarkable teacher who believes in learning with children in an inclusive learning environment

Savitha Ravi, a remarkable teacher who believes in learning with children in an inclusive learning environment

One of the great pleasures of my work is visiting schools and spending time with teachers and children. Over the past 30 years I have visited schools in many countries mainly in Europe, and Asia and have been privileged to see teachers providing great learning experiences to their pupils. I am often overwhelmed by the generosity of the welcome I receive and the valuable time that teachers share with me.

The pressures on schools are many and the need to address the perpetual changes in legislation and the restructuring of education systems has inevitably begun to take its toll on hard pressed professionals. For politicians being seen to express concern about our schools is a ready vote winner, even when they have little that is constructive to offer.  All of us have a responsibility to ensure that our actions are supportive of teachers and not increasing the pressures upon them.  As an advocate for the development of a more inclusive approach to schooling I am often conscious that this has in itself been seen as adding to the burden of already hard pressed teachers. In recent years, as schools have considered how to address the needs of increasingly diverse populations of children, teachers and school managers have had to address a number of dilemmas. Those of us who have campaigned for inclusive education must be prepared to support colleagues as they attempt to address these issues.

An example of these pressures has troubled my mind considerably over recent weeks since my return from Bangalore where I spent a little time with my good friend and colleague Savitha Ravi. Savitha is a great enthusiast and a tireless teacher who has established an outstanding school in the J.P. Nagar district of Bangalore. The school, called Pramiti from a Sanskrit word that translates approximately as “right conception” was founded by Savitha with a vision of creating an inclusive and just learning environment for children from the locality. During the few years of the school’s existence Savitha has worked hard to provide schooling for children who have been enrolled regardless of their needs or ability. This admissions policy sits well with the school’s mission statement that states:-

 “Pramiti facilitates education through continuous learning that is intuitive, dynamic and progressive. Education is not the mere accumulation and retention of knowledge but a way of life that is complete, ongoing and changing. The vision of Pramiti is enabling learning through creation, realization and co-existence.”

Most schools today have mission statements, but not all manage to live up to their high ideals. Pramiti is certainly an exception and over a few years has built a reputation for being a welcoming school that respects all children and families, and where all staff have made a commitment to understanding and meeting the needs of a diverse population. Inclusion in this school is imbued within everything they do, it is far more than a distant ideal.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that Savitha now faces a dilemma that has come about from the very success that she has achieved at Pramiti. Over the years the school has gained a proven track record of success in meeting the needs of children who have been excluded by others or denied an opportunity to cross the threshold of their neighbourhood school. Because of this success increased numbers of parents of children who have been “diagnosed” as having special educational needs have sought a place in Pramiti. As a result of of her commitment to ensuring that all children have access to a good education, Savitha has welcomed all children into her school. But now she is wondering how does she maintain a balance between those children with special educational needs and others? If all of the pupils from the locality who have disabilities or special educational needs enter her school and other school principals take no such  responsibility, what impact will this have? Will her school continue to be a fine example of inclusion or may it come to be regarded as more like a special school?

Already some parents have questioned whether there are too many children with difficulties in the school and have expressed concerns that this may detract teachers from their ability to meet the needs of their children. Savitha has assured these parents of the undoubted skills and commitment of her teachers to address the diverse needs in their classrooms. Indeed they demonstrate this ability on a daily basis. But inevitably questions of this nature will persist. The pressures from several directions are bound to continue.

Savitha is a fine example of a committed professional who has a vision of creating a more equitable and inclusive education system. I have no doubt that she will stand by these principles and will continue to provide an educational haven for all children in her community. Life will become easier for her and for her dedicated staff only when other schools in the area follow her example. However, there is a real danger that others who when they see the fine work that she is undertaking will abdicate their own responsibility rather than facing the dilemmas that Savitha is now addressing.

The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act should ease this dilemma, but will only achieve its objectives when more teachers and principals like Savitha are willing to rise to the challenge. In the meantime teachers who have the same vision as Savitha need to unite in their determination to create a more inclusive education system in Bangalore and elsewhere in situations where children continue to be denied access to an appropriate education. When called upon to make a choice whether to take actions that are right or those that are expedient I hope that like Savitha others will choose to do what is right.

Learning together - a first principle in practice at Pramiti School

Learning together – a first principle in practice at Pramiti School

Do enjoy the Pramiti School website at the link below