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Mainstream, VOL L, No 49, November 24, 2012

Revisiting the Dialogue of Inclusive Education: The Indian Course

Saturday 1 December 2012, by Madhulika Sharma


November 11 is marked as the National Education Day in India. It is a day to commemo-rate the great educationist, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who envisioned education as the “birthright of every citizen”. While addressing the Central Advisory Board of Education on November 9-10, 1953, he stated: “A state cannot claim to have discharged its duty till it has provided for every single individual the means to the acquisition of knowledge and self-betterment.”1 India is still struggling to meet this aspiration. The implications of “inclusive education”, which is central to the concept of Education for All (EFA), are yet to be fully understood in the country as a whole.


PRIMARILY, inclusive education is an extension of the concept of integrated education. Both these concepts originated in the West. Integrated education implies educating a child in a defined system without holding the system responsible for this. Inclusive education induces a particular system to act responsibly in educating the child and to adapt itself to his/her educational needs. In India, inclusive education has in recent times been widely introduced in various State and Central Government schemes; but there is still a huge deficiency in addressing exclusively the course and need to educate children with disabilities at the primary school level. In addition, some 81.5 lakh children in the country are still out of school.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2010 primarily discusses the spirit of inclusive education and emphasises educating every child in the age-group of 6-14 years within the elementary education system. More notably, it talks about educating children with disabilities in the mainstream schools. Popularly known as the Right to Education (RTE), this Act was introduced on April 1, 2010, and makes education a legal right equivalent to fundamental rights. Article 21A of the Constitution directs the state to “provide free and compulsory education” to all children for eight years in a manner “as the state may, by law, determine”.

Integrated education was primarily introduced through the programme called Integrated Education of Disabled Children (IEDC) in 1974. It has been closely debated, and finally turned to the mode of inclusive education. The programmes introduced in the 1990s by the Government of India touched the idea of inclusive education at a basic level. A number of national Acts, regulations, policies and commissions have been introduced to discuss inclusive education, but without much result. This has eventually led to deficient implementation of the true spirit of inclusive education. Schemes like Right to Education, Education for All (EFA), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA, which is a national adoption of the EFA), District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) are all programmes with a desirable intent; yet most of them have failed to generate a comprehensive meaning of inclusive education.


THE core of inclusive education should be to prioritise the needs of children with disabilities and provide them full support equivalent to other children. Education for disabled children has been repeatedly stressed since the First Five-Year Plan (1951-56). It was initially addressed through the “special schools” programme, and later moved to the model of “integrated education”, and finally became a part of the inclusive education system.

At the global level, the primacy of inclusive education replaced the concept of integrated education after the World Conference on Special Educational Needs held in Salamanca (Spain) in 1994. The Salamanca World Conference Statement and Framework for Action declared:

Schools should accommodate children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. This should include disabled and gifted children, street and working children, children from remote or nomadic populations, children from linguistic, ethnic or cultural minorities and children from other disadvantaged or marginalised areas or groups.2

The shift from integrated to inclusive educa-tion was not adopted in India until 2005, when the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) developed a National Action Plan of Inclusion in Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities, and later in 2009-10 it was placed under the IEDSS programme. But the change in these terminologies at the conceptual level hardly made an impact on the attitude and perception of the stakeholders in India responsible for the education of students with disabilities. Lack of basic facilities and desultory planning have reduced it merely to a practice wherein children with special needs are targeted to be brought into the general school system without much stress on their cognitive development and overall requirement.

The international proclamations and policy frameworks, formulated by different inter-national agencies under the United Nations (UN), have streamlined national legislations and policies and have catalysed the national-level efforts to promote the development of children with disabilities. These national edicts in turn have guided the discourse of planning and formulating interventions at different levels of operation. In India, three main national edicts pertaining to this dialogue are: (a) the Rehabi-litation Council of India (RCI) Act, 1992; (b) the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995; and (c) the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999.


IN the international mechanisms inclusive education is a versatile concept. India has lagged in implementing these global courses. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 states in Article 26 that every child must have the right to education. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) too endorsed the “dual approach” of integrating children with disabilities in the mainstream school system and also providing them with special care and assistance. Article 2 of this Convention also calls for equality in provisions without discrimination. Article 23 again advocates providing assistance to children with special needs in a manner that supports their optimal social integration and develop-ment. Article 28 recognises the right of every child to education that is uniformly available and accessible. India, a mainstream developing country, should have debated closely and adhered to these sentiments in its national practice.
There are other global mechanisms that can also be reference points for India. For example, the World Declaration on Education for All and its companion Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs, adopted by the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand (March 1990) underlined the needs of special attention, equal access and opportunities for education in an integrated education system. It also promoted the programmes designed to meet the basic learning needs of disadvantaged groups including the disabled. Similarly, the United Nations Decade for Disabled Persons (1983-92) provided a platform for numerous activities to spread awareness about the rights of the disabled and to bring the community together to ensure equal opportunities for the disabled throughout the world, especially their full integration in the regular school system.

Similar sentiments are also noticed in other global conventions and conferences. For instance, the Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs Education (1994) has differentiated integrated education from inclusive education by stating that an important assumption of special needs education is that “human differences are normal and that learning must accordingly be adapted to the needs of the child rather than the child fitted to preordained assumptions regarding the pace and nature of the learning process”.3 It also states that “Educational policies at all levels ... should stipulate that children with disabilities should attend their neighbourhood school, that is the school that would be attended if the child did not have the disability”. The Dakar Framework for Action, adopted by the World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal (2000) was based on the Education for All (EFA) 2000 Assessment and reaffirmed the EFA goals. Under Article 3 of the Declaration it was stated that “the learning needs of the disabled demand special attention. Steps need to be taken to provide equal access to education to every category of disabled persons as an integral part of the education system”.4 The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), though they do not directly mention education of children with disabilities, are an integral part of EFA.


SINCE independence, India has struggled to promote and achieve the scheme of education for all, particularly for children with disabilities. Most of these schemes and practices with regard to the course of inclusive education have been far from convincing. The Sergeant Report of 1944 and the Kothari Commission of 1964-66 advocated the adoption of an “integrated” approach in the school education system, but the system of special schools continued to dominate the course of education of children with disabilities. In 1974, the government announced the Integrated Education for Disabled Children Scheme. This scheme did not, however, rule out the special school system.

Since then much effort has been made to implement both the spirit of integrated educa-tion and inclusive education. The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which has been the apex body for the school system in the country, is one of the leading institutions in implementing these schemes. The NCERT carried out a Project on Integrated Education for Disabled Children (PIED) in collaboration with the UNICEF to encourage integrated education. The project was a success in improving the enrolment and retention rate of children with disabilities in the country. In 1997, the project was amalgamated with other basic education initiatives like the national District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) for the realisation of the larger goals of universal edu-cation and Education for All.5 Integrated Education for Disabled (IED) replaced the older scheme of Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDC). Under the name of the DPEP, the district-level programme for universali-sation of primary education was launched in 1995. These were the progressive parts in India; yet, these programmes focused more on quantitative targets and concentrated more on capacity building than on participation.6

There have been efforts by the Union Government to push inclusive education through joint collaboration with international bodies and specialised agencies. Involving leading UN agencies like the UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA and ILO, it initiated a collaborative effort, Janshala, in 1998 to mainstream children into the primary education system with focus on children from the Scheduled Castes, poorer sections of society and disabled children. This programme was later merged into the SSA scheme. The scheme aimed at providing universal primary education to all in the age group of 6-14 years. The evaluation report of the SSA in 2000 observed an impressive increase in the enrolment of differently abled children, with their share rising from 0.43 per cent of the enrolment in 2003 to 1.17 per cent in 2007 in the rural areas; but in urban schools the share of children with disabilities declined. Though the children were provided financial and non-financial incentives, few schools had individua-lised education plans in this regard.7 With the SSA taking care of children with disabilities up to elementary education, the government replaced IEDC with IEDSS in 2009-10 to extend the benefit of inclusive education to children at the secondary stage of schooling. It aims at providing opportunities to students who have completed eight years of schooling to continue their secondary education. However, the extent to which this scheme will achieve the larger goal of inclusion is yet to be seen.

The initiatives carried on by the Union Government to promote inclusive education surely indicate its concern over the issue, yet the acceptance has to be transformed into action to see actual change in the national and local situation. The State governments and non-government organisations should also come forward to assist the implementation of inclusive practices in schools. The guidelines issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to various schools to comply with inclusive education practices are a welcome step in this regard. The guidelines require all schools to comply with inclusive education practices and admit children with disabilities, failing which stringent action to the extent of disaffiliation of the schools may be taken.


THE present scenario of inclusive education calls for action rather than stated promises. There is a need to step up and eliminate the bottlenecks by re-approaching the entire system of inclusive education—from acceptance, enactment and planning to execution. The foremost need is to make the beneficiaries, providers and other stakeholders of inclusive education to believe in its merits. Inclusive is a borrowed concept and therefore has to be understood in the domestic light of indigenous culture and society norms. National institutes like the NCERT, NUEPA and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) can help conduct regular interaction, orientation and counselling programmes to develop the idea of inclusive education in society as a whole. Secure cooperation and coordination among different agencies and government departments like health, social justice, women and child development, the NHRC, private organizations and NGOs is a vital aspect of educational programme implementation.

A positive attitude towards children with disabilities is a prerequisite for inclusive education to succeed. Change in attitude can be shaped through training followed by episodes of affirmative interactions with the children with disabilities.8 Timely interaction with teachers and supervision of the teaching process also helps in understanding the problem issues of the most basic pillar of the inclusive education system—the teachers. Curriculum is a plan of course that has to be followed to achieve desired outcomes. Though the argument that children with special needs require a special curriculum to suit their requirements holds good, the relevance and need for such exclusive modified curriculum should be established according to the individual needs of different disabilities at different ages and stages of their development.9 Though inclusive policies are being carried out by nations worldwide, their relevance and effectiveness in different social contexts are questioned time and again. The efforts of the Indian government to include children with disabilities in the mainstream schooling system have been result-oriented in quantitative terms, but change in attitude is essential to bring real quality growth in education for children with disabilities. A clear-cut policy framework backed by detailed planning and supervision is essential for any programme to succeed.

1. A. Biswas and S.P. Agrawal, Development of Education in India: A Historical Survey of Educational Documents Before and After Independence, New Delhi: Concept, 1986, pp. 96-7.
2. The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, adopted by the World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality, Salamanca: Spain, June 7-10, 1994, p. 6.
3. Ibid., p. 7.
4. The Darkar Framework for Action, Education for All: Meeting our Collective Commitments, adopted by the World Education Forum, Darkar: Senegal, April 26-28, 2000, p. 75.
5. “Position Paper”, National Focus Group on Education of Children with Special Needs, National Council of Edu-cational Research and Training (NCERT), 2006, p. 6.
6. Katharine Giffard-Lindsay, Inclusive Education in India: Interpretation, Implementation, and Issues, CREATE Pathways to Access, Research Monograph, no. 15, September 2007, p. 13.
7. Evaluation Report on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Programme Evaluation Organisation: Planning Commission, Government of India, June 2010, p. v.
8. Tim Loreman, Joanne Deppeler and David Harvey, Inclusive Education: A Practical Guide to Supporting Diversity in Classroom, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2005, p. 6.
9. Ibid., p. 7.

Madhulika Sharma is a Senior Research Associate at the Department of Education of Groups with Special Needs (DEGSN) of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi. Her e-mail is

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