There can be no holding back the tide

This teacher, with her class of sixty children, is typical of many I see who have given a commitment to welcome all children from the locality into her classroom. Her professionalism means that inclusive schooling is a real possibility.

This teacher, with her class of sixty children, is typical of many I see who have given a commitment to welcome all children from the locality into her classroom. Her professionalism means that inclusive schooling is a real possibility.

An article in yesterday’s Times of India – “Confusion Prevailing over RTE Act Impedes Admission Process”, (12th May) reports that schools are finding reasons not to provide places to children from marginalised communities. The deadline to submit applications for students from disadvantaged circumstances for admission under the Right to Free And Compulsory Education Act (RTE) ends on May 18, yet it seems likely that many will still have difficulty obtaining a school place.

The implementation of new education legislation, particularly in a country as populous and diverse as India, was always destined to prove challenging. The logistics of managing such change and the difficulties associated with getting information to the right people inevitably impacts on the administration of such radical change. However, as we say here in England, where there is a will, there is usually a way. Unfortunately the necessity to have the will appears to be a stumbling block in terms of making progress in this particular case, and it is evident that many children and families are destined to be denied the opportunities that they desire for their children.

Half way through this brief article a sentence stood out for me that brings into question the significant features of the responsibilities of schools to children and families. When questioning school principals about the reasons why they are not complying with the requirements of the RTE, one (who demanded anonymity) is reported to have stated:-

“We tell them that it will be difficult for their children to adjust in our schools.”

I would not question the fact that for children who have previously been denied an opportunity to attend school that this is a considerable change that will inevitably bring new difficulties. Learning to be part of an unfamiliar community, making new friends and learning routines are challenges that all children face on entry to school and this will be no different in India. Certainly there are added challenges when children enter well established classrooms where friendships are already formed and classes are familiar with the expectations and ethos of a school. But in my experience children quickly adjust and are soon accepted by their peers and teachers alike.

My concerns are founded upon the notion that children need to adjust to schools, rather than considering how schools may change to accommodate children. The expression from the anonymous principal (presumably anonymous because he or she lacks the courage to stand by their opinion) seems to me to be an affront to the very professionalism that committed teachers show to their pupils. Effective teachers adjust their teaching to accommodate the needs of their pupils and in successful schools differentiated teaching and the development of personalised teaching resources has become the norm. Certainly children are adept at learning how to conform to the requirements of schooling and this is an important part of their social education, but where schools are so intransigent they are certainly destined to create problems for themselves.

The statement made by the school principal quoted in the newspaper indicates that either they do not understand, or that they are opposed to the movement towards inclusive education. There is an assertion here that it is not the responsibility of the school to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that children are welcome and encouraged to learn, but rather that children and families must conform to an established and restrictive school pattern. This surely begs the question who are the schools for? Are they establishments set up for the convenience of teachers with a focus on ensuring that they have a comfortable and relatively undisturbed life? This would seem to be the interpretation given by the principal quoted above. By contrast there are many school principals who would advocate schools as flexible institutions that welcome children, celebrate diversity and have a commitment to exploring teaching and learning in order to address the needs of all children. Of course, this latter approach to education is far from comfortable, makes demands upon teachers and school managers and requires a commitment that every member of the school population is prepared to rise to these challenges and be a learner.

I have been fortunate to visit many innovative schools in India managed by principals with passion and vision and in which teachers are eager to demonstrate their dedication and professionalism. These schools are already showing how their commitment to welcoming learners of diverse needs, background and ability is having a major impact on the communities that they serve. It is, I suppose, inevitable that some school principals will continue to bury their heads in the sand and try to halt the flow of progress towards a more just and equitable education system. It is to be hoped that those charged with the responsibility for the implementation of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act have the courage of their convictions and see it through to its desired conclusion. They will undoubtedly face opposition and obstacles, but if the teachers who I work with regularly in India are in any way typical of those in schools across the country, there will be no holding back the tide that is moving inexorably towards a more inclusive education system.

These teachers from the MA Special and Inclusive Education Course in Bangalore are a formidable force at the vanguard of inclusion - dinosaurs beware!

These teachers from the MA Special and Inclusive Education Course in Bangalore are a formidable force at the vanguard of inclusion – dinosaurs beware!

6 thoughts on “There can be no holding back the tide

  1. Hi Richard. We have much the same issue here. In Alberta children have the right (sort of) to be educated in their neighbourhood school, yet at times when they go to register they are advised that while the school is obliged to take their child, they would really be much better off in a special program somewhere that apparently can better cater to the child’s needs. Sometimes schools are unwelcoming to the point where parents don’t want to send their kids there. So, while the obligation to accept all children is there (sort of), the practice is sometimes very different. Sadly, the comment by the Indian principal that “We tell them that it will be difficult for their children to adjust in our schools” could just as easily have come from a school principal here. A minority, of course, but even a single principal with that sort of viewpoint is one to many in my opinion. This demonstrates how important it is to foster positive attitudes towards inclusion and all kids.

    • Hi Tim,
      This is certainly a universal issue, and as you say in most administrations a minority of school principals are behaving in this obstructive manner. One of the greatest challenges that remains is that those principals that are willing to take on a more diverse population end up with schools with a disproportionate number of children with special educational needs because the school up the road refuses. Of, course, when parents get to know about these skewed school populations it influences the decisions they make about placement. Sadly, whilst it is possible to engage the committed in discussions of this nature, those who are most intransigent remain as blockers within the system.

  2. Hello Richard, long time. I was travelling for Adithya’s admissions which got finalised this week. He will be going to a Design School in Coimbatore.
    Yes, RTE has been going through avoidance or rather evasion. Most principals feel that the children from different backgrounds studying together will give rise to complications wrt social status and the also give way to bullying. I do not subscribe to this as I feel even in schools where there has not been inclusion, typically developing children are bullied. There is some reason or the other. The fact is that as humans, we cannot accept anything different. My son was bullied because he had different interests, he wouldn’t go for b’day and other parties like his classmates, they found him different. So, what does social status or anything have to do with this. I do not see the same schools complain when Rahul Dravid’s son comes to study or Vijay Mallya’s son comes to study? I do not know what is going to help. This year we have taken 3 children from the low income group and we have had the parents come for all group meetings, we help them out by having a translator who translates whatever is said in English to the local language. They participate in the food plan where they cook food from home and get for all the children, never has any parent objected to any of this. I believe it is the attitude that matters. We are not yet under RTE, we will be eligible next year but we have started taking children ever since we started in 2011 as for us it is purely on humanitarian grounds and the fact that every person is eligible for education.

  3. Hi Savitha,
    Welcome back, I’m glad you had a successful journey. You are quite right to say even when schools don’t admit children from poorer communities or those with SEN they will find somebody to place at the “bottom of the pecking order”. This is indeed sad as there are principals such as yourself who have made a commitment to inclusion and proved that it can work. It is critical that we continue to engage these less willing souls in discussion and debate. I look forward to assisting you in this process in September!

    • Yes Richard, I would really want to also bring to people’s notice that inclusion is not about placing a child in a mainstream school but about how best we can reach out to the child. Recently, we had a child with PDD who came to us for admission. The child was in a school called Presidency School – sorry I’ve decided to start taking names of schools as I really feel there is no point winking in the dark! The child used to spend most of his day in the playground and hardly anytime in the class, he used to be happy running around in the playground and not trouble anyone, so that’s what he did most of the time. We observed him in our env for a day and he was so good working with the materials, yes he would get distracted but all he needed was to have hi workmat near an adult’s seat and then he worked beautifully. So, my thought is to have a seminar or a education session that would be conducted be conducted by a mainstream or inclusive school in a public place in the heart of the city and we could invite principals, teachers, parents all under one roof and have a debate or talk, present case studies, present problem spots etc. It could be for two days -a paid event as we really need and we will not highlight anything about special needs or inclusion – it will be about general education and we then weave in inclusion. I can try and speak to Akash Ryall of Bethany school and take his help in organising this event

  4. Good idea Savitha. We need to engage much more with those who are reluctant to move forward if we are to make progress. I’m certainly with you on this.

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