Passing on the torch


Dr Jayanthi Narayan, a source of great inspiration to teachers across India and beyond

Dr Jayanthi Narayan, a source of great inspiration to teachers across India and beyond

When I was first invited to come to India to work with colleagues on the development of training for teachers working with children with special educational needs, I found this quite a daunting prospect. Although I had some knowledge of Indian history, literature and culture, my understanding of the Indian education system was at best limited. My experience of Indian schools was non-existent at that time and I was keen to visit a few of these before engaging directly in the professional development of experienced teachers.

Anxious to understand more about the ways in which provision is made for children with special educational needs in the country, I did what any other teacher or researcher working in this field would have done. I searched the university library catalogue and other sources for literature related to the development of special and inclusive education in India. For such a populous country there continues to be a limited corpus of literature in this area, and in 1999 when I was conducting my investigations there was considerably less. However, of the papers and articles that I found, there were a number written by a particular author whose ideas and insights quickly began to shape both my understanding and further interest in educational provision here.

Dr Jayanthi Narayan has written and researched in the area of inclusive education over many years. I first encountered her work in a book with the title, Beyond Basic Care: Special Education and Community Rehabilitation in Low Income Countries, in which she had written a chapter on special education provision in India. Having been the founder head of the Department of Special Education at the National Institute of the Mentally Handicapped (NIMH), Dr. Narayan played a major role in in setting up a laboratory school for the training of teachers, and developing curricula for diploma, degree and post-graduate courses. She has also been influential in campaigns for the support of parents and has certainly influenced national policy. Just as in my early days of working with teachers in India, her work continues to inform my thinking about how schools are developing here in Bangalore and beyond.

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Jayanthi and listening to her present a key note lecture at a conference in Delhi, and today had the honour of sharing a platform with her at a seminar organised by the Brindavan Education Trust in Bangalore. Just as in Delhi, it was a pleasure to hear her speak with such passion and enthusiasm and a somewhat daunting prospect following her onto the stage to speak to the gathered assembly. Her words of encouragement and endorsement of the ideas which I presented today were reassuring and affirmative in respect of the work which I do with such good colleagues here. Though I have no doubt that her presentation was the highlight of the day.

Whilst it was Jayanthi Narayan’s work that informed much of my work when I first came to India, it was the encouragement given by Mrs Krishnaswami, the great matriarch of special education in Bangalore that initially made me feel welcome amongst special educators in the city. This formidable lady has been a driving force behind developments and training in Bangalore for longer than anyone can remember, and it was a pleasure to see her in the audience at today’s event.

Looking down from the stage today I recognised the faces of so many students with whom we work on the MA programme here. Their bright enthusiastic gaze was a source of tremendous reinforcement during my morning presentation. As I looked into the audience I reflected on the fact that Dr Narayan and Mrs K (as she is affectionately known) have been pioneers in the field of special and inclusive education in India, and that their presence today would have been a great inspiration to many of these young teachers. In the future I am sure that some of the students with whom we are fortunate to work here in the city, will be assuming their positions on the podium in order to share their experiences and commitment to children who are described as having special educational needs. This passing of the torch from a generation of Indian educational pioneers to today’s neophytes who will in turn become the leaders in this field is surely something that we should celebrate.

Once again I am grateful to all of my colleagues and our students here in Bangalore for the warmth of the hospitality received. On the plane home tomorrow and looking forward to returning in January.

16 thoughts on “Passing on the torch

  1. I’m in the flight back to Mumbai as well, having attended the first module of the M.A course.It has been a wonderful learning experience and got me thinking about so many challenges present in the field. Yesterday’s seminar was truly eye- opening and inspirational. Listening to the rich and varied experiences of Dr.Narayan, Gayatri ma’am and Prof. Richard was indeed motivating.Felt privileged to be amidst so many distinguished people who have been tirelessly working towards inclusion in their own ways. Also realized there is so much more to be done….but
    with such enthusiasm and great leaders to show us the way, surely we will get there some day ….:))

    • Hi Divya, Have a good flight. Leaders can only work when they have such excellent students to collaborate with. Everyone contributed to this excellent learning event – don’t underestimate your own contribution to this.

  2. Dear Richard,
    It was a humbling feeling to be amidst so many dedicated teachers. I am fortunate to have met such experienced and passionate individuals who have inspired me and continue to do so. Dr Narayan is my latest.
    During the presentations made by Dr Narayan and yourself I couldn’t stop thinking about the different areas on which I could do research on for my course, looking forward to sharing them with you soon.

    • Hi Deepa, This was a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us. I agree that Dr. Narayan was a great inspiration, but I also come away having learned so much from everyone, students and tutors, with whom I have interacted. A great experience and with much more to come.

  3. GM Richard,

    Have a pleasant flight back home. My greetings to Mrs. Sarah Rose and everyone back home. It is always a wonderful learning experience in your august presence. I always wondered why I hated my teachers so much, I think now I able to analyze to some extent after listening to Dr. Jayanthi Narayan, and interacting with her. I am always striving to be a good teacher.



    • Hi Sunil,
      I thought some of the observations made at the seminar on the significance of the teacher and student relationship reminded me of why I first entered education. There is still much to be learned from the Gurukul system where the teacher assumed absolute responsibility for his pupil with unconditional love.

  4. I am aware that I am repeating what others have been expressing! It indeed has been a thought provoking week! Plenty of food for thought!
    Richard, your statement – all in this room are committed and are here because they are intrested – is an action item for all of us. As Jayashree said, I think, we all should strive towards getting a couple more with us each year into the thought of IE..

    • Hi Rajani,
      If every individual in the group we have worked with so intensively over the past week of so could influence two other teachers and each of them a further two, after a period of time we would have a much more inclusive education system for everybody. Glad to hear that this has been such a positive experience. Tell your colleagues and bring them along to a session in January.

    • Hi Sunil,
      Anyone who wishes to come along on the journey is welcome. We have no passengers, everyone must work together in order that we move forward.

  5. Having attended the first set of contact classes and the seminar has been a very humbling and inspiring experience for me. I feel that there is so much for me to learn from both my peers and my wonderful facilitators. Hearing Dr Jayanti Narayan, Prof. Richard and Dr Gayathri talk with such passion has lit a fire within me to keep at this course with determination even when sometime I have feared how I will balance work home and the course.
    I am looking forward to doing the research to write the paper as I feel there is so much that I want to understand and learn . Also looking forward to using my learnings in my day to day work in college interacting with students and colleagues.

    • Hi Mary,
      The application of learning is a critical part of this course. Whilst we theorise and debate, and learn by doing so, it is only when we change the practices in schools and colleges that we will really see improvements in the lives of all students. It has been a pleasure working with you.

  6. Hey Richard, it was indeed a great learning experience to listen to you, Dr. JNT 🙂 and Dr. Gayathri. I am so happy to see this blog, there are so many contributors and most of all I know so many of them:) The horizon has extended and I have new friends now, it is an amazing feeling to have so many part of the inclusion movement. There are so many whoa re going to be more aware, more equipped and more ready to work towards inclusion.
    I just hope you will come in January with some more time so that you can visit Pramiti’s new facility and spend more time with me also 🙂

  7. Hi Savitha,
    I will most certainly come to Pramiti in January. I am excited by the prospect of your new facilities, having seen what excellent work you have done in your previous abode. I really feel now that we are developing a critical mass in Bangalore and even reaching out beyond this. We need to work hard to keep the momentum going, but if we do this we can achieve so much more. Your leadership will be crucial to this. Let’s keep working together.

  8. Hi Richard
    During the seminar, whilst listening to Dr.Jayanthi’s , Your’s and Dr. Gayatri’s points, coequally thoughts were going on back of my mind about the work we are doing with our children and how much we have to do more!!! It was so difficult to pull my thoughts back on track…Indeed a learning enriched with experience!!!

    • Hi Kavitha,
      I’m sure we can all do more, but I sense that there is no lack of commitment to do so from anyone who attended the events in Bangalore. I know that you will continue to make an excellent contribution.

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