6. The Indian Context – School Without Walls




Writers in the past fifty years, both Indian and foreign, have been poorly informed about Indian special needs education and disability care in the 19th century— and for mental retardation and orthopaedic disabilities, the developments up to 1947.


—Miles, 1994, p. 2


Miles (1994) has undertaken the exercise of documenting the existence of disability care and education in nineteenth century India. He observes:

The exercise is not one of acedemic interest alone. It has implications for the current disability service developments in India and neighbouring countries. Experiments with ‘integrated’ educational services and Western plans for ‘Community Based Rehabilitation’ are underway, premised partly on the mistaken view that, before Independence, India had hardly any disability service experience; and that since 1947 the Indian experience has been of large, ‘inappropriate’, medically-oriented institutions. This myth ignores the informal efforts of Indian families and neighbourhoods since antiquity to respond to special needs and disabilities. It dismisses over 100 years’ work and care in small centres across India before Independence, in which some people with disabilities received education and vocational training, individually, or in groups, or integrated with able-bodied children and adults; and then earned their living by their own skills and determination (p. 4).


In 1944, three years before India attained independence, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) had been entrusted with the task of preparing a report on the development of education in India in the post-War period. The CABE report, written by John Sargent, the British chief educational advisor, observed that the Indian government had not done much for the education of the disabled. What had been done was due to voluntary effort and the country could ‘profitably borrow’ from the experiences and achievements of those countries which had been active in this field (CABE, 1944, p. 111). The 1944 Sargent Report also referred to the 1936 CABE recommendation, when it had directed provincial governments not to neglect the education of the handicapped. The provinces, however, preferred to spend the available funds on the education of ‘normal’ children. The report did not accept the ‘excuse for neglecting the needs of the handicapped’ when a scheme of education on ‘really comprehensive lines [was] in contemplation’ (ibid., p. 119).

The report had an imprint of the development that was taking place in England at that point of time. The 1944 Education Act in England had made it mandatory for LEAs to ascertain children suffering from a ‘disability of body or mind’ and to provide ‘special educational treatment’ in special schools or elsewhere. The Act is regarded as a major effort to move as many ‘defective’ children as possible out of medical domination (Tomlinson, 1982) and let them have ‘special education in ordinary schools’ (Barton and Tomlinson, 1984). Chapter IX of the Sargent Report titled ‘The Education of the Handicapped’ begins with a reference to the contemplated ‘national scheme of education’ providing for all children according to their ‘special aptitudes’ with consideration for those ‘who are generally classed as handicapped’ (CABE, 1944, p. 111).

That chapter summarises the following conclusions:

  1. Provision for the mentally or physically handicapped should form an essential part of a national system of education and should be administered by the Education Department.
  2. Hitherto in India governments have hardly interested themselves at all in this branch of education: what has been done has been due almost entirely to voluntary effort.
  3. Wherever possible, handicapped children should not be segregated from normal children. Only when the nature and extent of their defect make it necessary, should they be sent to special schools or institutions. Partially handicapped children should receive special treatment in ordinary schools.
  4. The blind and deaf need special educational arrangements, including specially trained teachers. It may be desirable to establish central institutions for training the teachers required.
  5. Particular care should be taken to train the handicapped, wherever possible, for remunerative employment and to find such employment for them. After-care work is essential.
  6. In the absence of any reliable data it is impossible to estimate what would be the cost of making adequate provision for the handicapped in India; 10 per cent of the total expenditure on basic and high schools has been set aside for such services, which include such provision, and it is hoped that this will suffice.

The report can be said to be a landmark in policy on ‘integration’ of disabled children in general schools, though it continued its recommendation for special schools, but ‘only when the nature and extent of their defect [made] it necessary’. The report is also notable on two counts. First, it recommended that the provision for the disabled ‘should form an essential part of a national system of education and should be administered by the Education Department’ (emphasis mine). Second, 10 per cent of the budget for basic and high schools had been set aside for the (educational) services of the disabled. Special education in India continues to be administered by the welfare ministry (now called the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) and is not a part of the regular system of education. As per the UNESCO report (1995), over 95 per cent countries have transferred responsibility of special education to the mainstream ministry of education. An accurate estimate of expenditure on education of the disabled as compared to that of school education cannot be made, but it would be much less than 10 per cent.


The first education commission in India, popularly known as the Kothari Commission, began the section on handicapped children in the chapter ‘Towards Equalisation of Educational Opportunities’ in its report in a similar tone as reflected in the 1944 post-war report. ‘Very little has been done in this field so far…any great improvement in the situation does not seem to be practicable in the near future…there is much in the field that we could learn from the educationally advanced countries’ (Education Commission, 1966, p. 123).

The commission made two more disappointing observations. As a part of its ‘plan of action’ it recommended ‘the provision of educational facilities for about 10 percent of the total number of handicapped children’ by 1986, though it recorded that ‘the Constitutional Directive on compulsory education includes handicapped children as well.’ As against this, the CABE Report (1944) had recommended setting aside 10 per cent of expenditure on basic and secondary education for special services for the handicapped on ‘really comprehensive lines’. Secondly, though the commission recommended ‘integrated education’, it also observed, ‘many handicapped children find it psychologically disturbing to be placed in an ordinary school’; a statement against the spirit of integrated schooling. The 1968 National Education Policy followed the commission's recommendations and suggested the expansion of education facilities for physically and mentally handicapped children, and also the development of ‘integrated programmes’ enabling handicapped children to study in regular schools. Eight years later, in 1974, a scheme for the integrated education of disabled children or the IEDC began in the welfare ministry.


Twenty years later, the National Policy on Education (MHRD, 1986a), which has since been guiding the education system in India, under its broad objective of ‘education for equality’ proposed the following measures for the education of the handicapped:

  1. Wherever it is feasible, the education of children with motor handicaps and other mild handicaps will be common with others,
  2. Special schools with hostels will be provided, as far as possible at district headquarters, for severely handicapped children,
  3. Adequate arrangements will be made to give vocational training to the disabled,
  4. Teachers’ training programmes will be reoriented, in particular for teachers of primary classes, to deal with special difficulties of handicapped children, and
  5. Voluntary effort for the education of the disabled will be encouraged in every possible manner.

The Programme of Action (POA) (MHRD, 1990) outlined the measures to implement the policy, which included massive in-service training programmes for teachers, orientation programmes for administrators, development of supervisory expertise in the resource institutions for school education at the district and block levels, and also provision of incentives like supply of aids, appliances, text books and school uniforms.

While reviewing the national policy, the committee headed by Acharya Ramamurty made two significant observations regarding low coverage of handicapped in education. First, the committee said the education of the handicapped was viewed as a ‘social welfare’ activity, and secondly, the IEDC scheme was being implemented in terms of running ‘mini special schools’ within general schools (MHRD, 1990). The committee noted the following ‘inadequacies’ in the 1986 Policy (ibid., p. 85.):

It has not stressed the mobilisation of the total general education system for the education of the handicapped. Special schools have been treated in isolation from other educational institutions from the point of view of providing the educational supervisory infrastructure, leaving it to the Ministries of Welfare and HRD to co-operatively develop the same.

The NPE/POA 1986 was modified and a new POA was chalked up in 1992. The 1992 POA made an ambitious commitment for universal enrolment by the end of the Ninth Plan for both categories of children: those who could be educated in general primary schools and those who required to be educated in special schools or special classes in general schools (MHRD, 1992, p. 18). It also called for the ‘reorientation’ of the pre-service and in-service teacher education programmes. The two notable pedagogical recommendations in the POA read:

Curriculum flexibility is of special significance for these children. Special needs for these children will be met, if child centred education is practiced.

Child-to-child help in education of children with disability is an effective resource in view of large classes and multi-grade teaching.

Showing concern reagarding the policy in respect of disabled children as compared to the non-disabled, Jangira (1997) observes: ‘Though endorsing integration, the NPE seemed hesitant in full commitment to universalisation of elementary education for this group of children just like other children. It remained silent on the department of education assuming full responsibility for education of children with disability’ (p. 496).


Yet another significant policy development in India took place following the ESCAP Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asia and Pacific Region in 1992. The Indian parliament passed the Persons With Disabilities (PWD) Act of 1995, which grants ‘equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation’ to persons with disabilities. The Act is significant in the sense that it requires ‘the appropriate governments and the local authorities’ to ‘ensure that every child with a disability has access to free education in an appropriate environment till he attains the age of eighteen years’. On the type of schooling for these children, it further asks them to ‘endeavour to promote the integration of students with disabilities in the normal schools’. However, it does not undermine the need for special schools, rather it intends to ‘promote setting up of special schools in Government and private sector for those in need of special education’. Further, in order to provide vocational training facilities to the disabled the Act requires governments to equip the special schools with suitable facilities. Most of the educational facilities available to the non-disabled, such as non-formal education, research and training of teachers, have been extended for the education of the disabled also as part of the ‘comprehensive education scheme’ to be made by the governments and local authorities. The Act also requires the ‘restructuring of the curriculum for the benefit of children with disabilities’. In addition, the Act provides for reservation of 3 per cent of seats in admissions into higher and professional institutions. The coordination committees at the national and state levels are expected to monitor the implementation of the Act. It has created positions for the appointment of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities at the centre and Commissioners for Persons with Disabilities in the states to intervene legally for violation of the rights of the disabled including in matters of equal opportunity in education.


There is no accurate data on how many children with disabilities may come to regular and special schools. However, there is evidence that the number of special schools for the blind and deaf and the enrolment of children in them have been increasing. There were twenty-five schools for the blind with 1,156 children in 1944 (CABE, 1944), which increased to 115 schools and 5,000 children in 1966 (Education Commission, 1966) and to 200 schools and 15,000 children in 1998 (MHRD, 1990). Similarly, the number of schools for the deaf and enrolment in them increased from 35 and 1313 in 1944 to 70 and 4000 in 1966, and to 280 and 28,000 in 1998 (ibid.).

Watkins (2000) has referred to an estimate in the early 1990s whereby India had 3 million children in need of special education. The special institutions, mostly in the voluntary sector, were catering to less than one per cent of those who had learning difficulties. The writer further noted, ‘India has introduced inclusive education into its mainstream national teacher training programmes. The problem is that progress has been limited and piecemeal’ (ibid.).

Increase in figures of children coming to regular schools has not been recorded separately in official statistics, and the figures quoted in government documents are based upon children attending schools on account of programme interventions. Miles (1997) observes, ‘The number of children with disabilities casually integrated in ordinary schools must always greatly exceed the number in special schools, and continues to do so.’ Similarly, Mittler (2000) has also noted the positive approach and leading role of India and some other developing countries towards inclusive schooling, ‘while some of the richer countries that were leaders in the field seem more hesitant and half-hearted’.

In most conferences and documents at national and international levels, the number of children with disabilities enrolled in schools in India is projected at less than 5 per cent of their total number; at times it is even said to be less than 2 per cent. There is no corroborative source for this figure. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) conducted the 47th round of its survey in July-December 1991 and presented the enrolment status of children aged 5-14 in ordinary schools (Appendix 1). The enrolment status was 552 per thousand disabled children in urban areas and 458 in rural areas. The overall percentage of enrolment in ordinary schools was 50.5 per cent. The survey further revealed that ‘of those who were enrolled once in ordinary schools but were not currently enrolled, 43 per cent are found to have discontinued due to onset of disability in the rural sector. The said percentage was 39 in the urban sector’ (NSSO, 1994, p. 84).

The survey also reported that in rural India about 70 percent of the physically disabled are not literate as against 46 per cent in urban India. Going by this survey, the percentage of literacy among the disabled in India was 42 per cent in 1991, of which 16 per cent was middle and above and 7 per cent was secondary and above. The state-wise number of literates per thousand in rural and urban areas is given in Appendix 2. In the survey a person was considered physically disabled if he or she had one or more of the four types of disability, namely, visual, hearing, speech and locomotor. The survey confirms the theory of ‘casual integration’ in ordinary schools observed by Miles (1997), and schooling of children with disabilities other than in special schools or without any specific state interventions.

In line with the 1968 policy recommendation, the Ministry of Social Welfare of the Government of India formulated a scheme in 1974 called the Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDC). Taking note of the comments by the Ramamurty Committee, presumably on IEDC running ‘mini special schools’ within general schools (MHRD, 1990), the scheme was revised in 1992. It was also transferred to the education department (though special schools continue in the erstwhile social welfare ministry). In addition to providing educational opportunities for disabled children in common schools, it calls for the integration of disabled children placed in special schools into common schools ‘once they acquire the communication and daily living skills at the functional level’ (IEDC, 1992). It has provisions for the training of general teachers, preparation of learning materials, educational devices, support teacher and staff and setting up of resource centres. Over 120,000 children with disabilities in over 24,000 mainstream schools are getting benefit under this scheme. It is a matter of research to ascertain if it is still running ‘mini special schools’. It has been generating interest among non-governmental agencies and parents in rural areas, but the focus of the implementing agencies remains grants, incentives and recruitment of special teachers.

In recent years two major initiatives have been launched by the government for achieving the goals of universalisation of elementary education—the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) or education-for-all campaign. Both programmes have accepted integration of children with disabilities in mainstream schools as a commitment. DPEP has been making several interventions to achieve its objectives towards integration which include community mobilisation and early detection, in-service teacher training, resource support, educational aids and appliances and architectural design. Children with disabilities are being enrolled as part of the regular programme into mainstream schools as a result of the DPEP interventions. DPEP is converging with IEDC and other programmes of the government and those of NGOs to bring synergy in the process of including more disabled students into the regular school system. Similarly, the SSA has built in an element of additional support to these children so that they are encouraged to enroll themselves in mainstream schools.

There is no accurate count of special schools as most of them are being run by voluntary agencies with or without support from the government. However, it has been estimated that there would be over 2,500 such schools all over the country (RCI, 2000). The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment supports around 400 such schools being run by the voluntary sector. The Ramamurty Committee reported 250 districts in the country which did not have a special school for any disability (ibid.). Some states have supporting schemes for education of the disabled. Eight states have schemes of providing educational support materials and twenty-nine states are providing educational scholarships to these children (MSJE, 2001).

India has the largest system of open schools for children who cannot attend regular classes or who have dropped out for a variety of reasons including rigidity of the traditional school system and its examinations. The National Open School (NOS) has over 500,000 children enrolled. The NOS provides educational services in the distance education mode using the delivery of printed materials and contact programmes through study centres. It offers a flexible curriculum, multiple options and modular courses to suit the needs and circumstances of students. It also provides skill-based vocational courses apart from the traditional school certification. The NOS has been very popular amongst special schools and learning centres for children with disabilities. It has a scheme of making its learning materials available in Braille for the visually handicapped and adaptation of the material in a user-friendly manner for students with other types of disabilities. Many learning centres have been accredited by the NOS offering its flexible and innovative courses and learning materials to children in special schools.


Training of general teachers is the most important intervention for creating an integrating and inclusive environment for the education of disabled children in mainstream schools. The IEDC provides for the training of teachers and preparation of teaching and learning materials. The training module has been left to the states and other implementing agencies. With the launching of the IEDC, many regular teachers felt the need for getting ‘special’ teacher status to respond to the educational needs of disabled children. The Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI), constituted under an Act in 1992, has arranged ‘bridge courses’ for these teachers to qualify to come under the category of ‘special teachers’. The IEDC scheme provides for the appointment of one special teacher for eight disabled children who may be working in one school or for a group of schools as an itinerant.

The DPEP is undertaking two types of training programmes. The first includes training conducted under the RCI foundation course, its bridge course or three-to-five day exclusive training for integrated education. In the second, states are also incorporating integrated education as a component in their in-service general training programme. Special education has also been included in pre-service and bachelor courses being offered by training institutions and universities. At places, it is one of the electives or even offered as a main course. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) is offering distance education at the university level. IGNOU has also designed its programme to respond to the needs of students with disabilities. Under the mainstream university system, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has schemes in the area of education of the disabled to pursue higher education and also for teacher preparation.


India has been following international developments in the field of special needs education, particularly those which are focused upon the Asia-Pacific region. The country has been a partner in most of the conventions and conferences. Many reputed NGOs have got support from international funding agencies and they have actively contributed to the development of the education of the disabled. The government has been facilitating NGO initiatives in international cooperation. It has also actively participated in UN and other international collaborative programmes. Some such major programmes and their benefits are listed here.


The PIED was implemented in 1986 with UNICEF support in ten states/union territories on the principle of composite area approach. Ten blocks were selected, one in each state/union territory, for full coverage and the objectives included ‘to prepare the general education system in demonstration sites to achieve the goal of education for all including those with disabilities’ (Mani, 1993). Teacher's training was the most critical component of the programme and was given at three levels. At the first stage, all teachers of the blocks were given training for a duration of one week. At the second stage, 10 per cent of them were given intensive training for six weeks. Finally, eight to ten teachers from each block underwent training for a period of one academic year. These teachers received multicategory training to serve disabled children of all types and were placed at the resource centres at the cluster level of the blocks. Some of the significant findings of the project were:

  1. Disabled children performed on par with the non-disabled in the PIED block. However, mentally retarded children did not show similar performance.
  2. Retention rate among disabled children was very high (about 95 per cent). It was higher than the non-disabled children in the PIED blocks.
  3. Majority of the general teachers indicated that they were becoming better teachers by teaching the disabled children.

Major learnings of the PIED were incorporated in the IEDC, which was modified in 1992.


An Indian team from the NCERT was part of the international team developing the UNESCO pack, developed in early 1990s, based on the five principles of effective learning: active learning; negotiation of objectives; demonstration, practice and feedback; continuous evaluation and support. The Indian team was also involved in the field testing of the resource pack. It was thereafter decided that materials should be disseminated nationally through teacher education institutions. The first phase of this initiative was a multisite action research project called ‘Effective Education for All’ which started in 1991. The project began with a training workshop. The training was based on the adaptation of the UNESCO resource pack material carried out as result of the feedback from earlier international workshops and the learning experiences gathered from the pilot testing of the pack in pre- and in-service training in India. The training sessions helped participants reflect upon their own thinking and practice with respect to ways in which they responded to children's special educational needs. It also helped them consider the integration of children with special needs and its influencing factors. The pack was particularly effective in a ‘whole school approach’ whereby heads and all the staff were given orientation. It has been confirmed, following evaluation of the project, that the resource pack could make a significant contribution to wider school improvement initiatives. It has also confirmed that relatively small changes in the practice of ordinary schools could make a significant impact. Some reforms in pre- and in-service teacher education could make a major contribution to such developments. Such reforms do challenge the existing arrangements and practices in the school system (Ainscow et al., 1995). The UNESCO Resource Pack has since been translated into Hindi.


Under the India-Australia Capacity Building Programme in integrated education for children with special needs, a five-day workshop was held to select ten resource persons, who visited Australia for a period of ten weeks. They returned after getting training as master trainers. Workshops at five places involving 180 teachers were organised with the help of these resource persons and Australian experts. The project, started in 1998, has added to the capacity of general etchers for integrating children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The project also provided training materials for further use by trainers.


India was one of the participating countries of the Asia-Pacific region which worked on the UNESCO-PROAP Project on promotion of basic education for children with special needs. The project involved participation of the Indian teams in three international workshops organised by the UNESCO-PROAP in Bangkok (1999), Beijing (2000) and Ahmedabad (2000). The Indian project has led to the development of materials for teachers and trainers in general primary schools for an in-service training programme on inclusive education for teachers. The materials were developed following participatory workshops with teachers and teacher educators, at national and state levels. The manual containing these materials observes,

The mention of disability and the accompanying ‘technical’ jargon tends to generate a feeling almost akin to fear among teachers—they need to see that inclusion of children with special needs is not only easy, it's also great fun and actually helps all children. In fact, India's universalisation effort would be hampered in the absence of such an approach obtaining in the typical primary school (Shukla, 2001).

There is a common thread in international cooperation in this field particularly at the level of the involvement of the union government. All the programmes have aimed at the integration or inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. Second, there has been a focus on whole school development and capacity building of all teachers in schools. All these programmes have been influencing the thinking process among teacher educators and policymakers for taking children's schooling from integration to inclusion.


The process of inclusion is linked with exclusion. An inclusive school should not exclude children on account of organisational, cultural and curricular factors (Booth, 1996; Sebba and Ainscow, 1996). In India and in other developing countries the issue and context of exclusion is different from that in the UK and other developed countries. In the UK, exclusion from schools normally refers to ‘disciplinary exclusion’ arising due to conduct or behaviour of children that does not conform to class or school rules. On the other hand, in India, three broad categories of exclusion can be identified. First, exclusion as understood in the UK; second, exclusion as a consequence of social and economic factors; and third, exclusion due to internal or cultural and curricular factors.

The practice of disciplinary exclusion is generally limited to private schools in India, which ‘expel’ students as a disciplinary measure. Some schools, mostly private, also ‘exclude’ or detain students at grades before they take public examinations to demonstrate the school's ‘good performance’ in the board examination (Mukhopadhya and Anil, 2001). In extreme cases, they even ask students to leave the school. Unfortunately, school research in India does not focus upon such areas of concern.

Social and economic exclusion resulting in children's non-enrolment and non-completion of school years remains a major hurdle as well as a challenge for policymakers and educational practitioners in India. As in many developing countries, there are reasons that keep children out of schools. Most reasons are external to the school system. But ‘the way educational provision is set up can also have the effect of excluding certain groups of children’ (Ogadhoh and Molteno, 1998).

Indian policy documents refer to the ‘special emphasis on the removal of disparities and to equalise educational opportunity by attending to the specific needs of those who have been denied equality so far’ (MHRD, 1998, p.7). The groups covered under ‘education for equality’ in the document include specifically women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities, handicapped and non-literate adults. There are, however, many other groups of children ‘at risk’ and living in ‘difficult situations’ such as orphans, destitutes, child labourers, street children, and victims of riots and natural disasters (Sharma and Sharma, 1999). The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has listed ‘children in crisis situations’ as street children, children who have been abused, abandoned children, orphaned children, children in conflict with the law, and children affected by conflict or disasters. The ministry has several schemes of ‘social defence’ for these children, which has a component of education as well (MSJE, 2001).

However, policy on the formal school system does not refer to the educational needs of these groups in particular. Some of them are provided education in segregation mode by NGOs and other departments of the government. For example, the labour ministry runs ‘special schools’ for liberated child labour. These isolated schools have generally no linkages with the mainstream school system. Such education is ad hoc and exclusionary in nature. Children's motivation in such schools is generally low. The exception is the programme being run by the MV Foundation, an NGO based in Andhra Pradesh. The NGO organises literacy camps for several weeks for out-of-school children, prepares them and transfer them to the local mainstream schools.

Children who are victims of conflicts, war, violence and natural disasters suffer temporary and permanent disruptions in their schooling. Such situations are created more often in developing countries. The present rigid school structure where all children are expected to learn the same amount in the same time does not take into account these contingencies. The affected children get left out when they resume schooling and ultimately they get pushed out of the system. The recommendation for these children is the open school. The question is however why can't the flexibility and options offered by the open school be provided by the formal school system as well.

The groups focussed under the 1986 national policy continue to lag behind in terms of enrolment and completion of school years. All children are yet to come to schools in India. Five per cent of the children in the age group 6-11 and 41 per cent in the age group 11-14 are yet to get enrolled in schools. Of those getting enrolled, 40 per cent leave school before completing the five-year period and 55 per cent drop out before completing compulsory schooling until age 14. The situation worsens when it comes to girls, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Table 3 gives the pattern of girls, SCs and STs dropping out from the formal school system. The proportion increases with increase in age, more in the case of girls in each category. Under each age group, the scheduled tribes drop out more than the scheduled castes, and the latter drop out more than the non-SCs/STs. Scheduled tribe girls aged 14 have the maximum drop out rate of 76 per cent.


Table 3 Drop Out Rates in India

Source: Compiled from Selected Educational Statistics, 2001, MHRD, New Delhi.


Gaps in drop outs may be one of the indicators of exclusion of disadvantaged and marginalised groups. This data is presented to establish the point that the formal school system is not responsive even to the non-disabled, particularly those belonging to disadvantaged groups. The question is, should it not change? How far is the lack of inclusiveness in schools contributing to drop outs? The subject, apparently, has not been researched in India. But, as a US study (Kahelnberg, 2001) shows, if poor students are mixed in middle class schools, their performance improves. In the Indian situation, their drop out rates may come down provided such mixing is done with appropriate orientation to curriculum and pedagogy at the school level and at the level of individual students.

Most government programmes for the improvement of educational participation of these groups is linked with incentives and resources. However, Dreze and Kingdon (2001) refer to the ‘persistence of an overall bias against scheduled caste children in the schooling system’. According to Scrase (1993), India's educational inequality has an explanation in the ‘cultural domination and ideological control’ of the middle classes who have monopolised education, policy and culture. Haq (1989) makes a similar observation on domination of different groups on education in different periods of Indian history.

…during the Sanskritic tradition, it was the Brahmana who benefited most; during the Mughal period, it was the nobility of Islam; during the British period, it was the aristocracy and the Indian feudals; and, during contemporary time, it is the elite from the higher caste and class backgrounds which monopolise and make use of the best available educational opportunities (p. 50).

The PROBE Report (1999) has reported three forms of social discrimination operating in the Indian school system. First, a system of ‘multiple tracks’ has come up providing different types of schooling opportunities to different sections of the population. The poor and the disadvantaged are going to government schools and well-off students go to private schools; some go to formal schools, but those for whom the formal system is not ‘suitable’ go to the ‘informal’ or non-formal educational centres. Some of the groupings of the schools are:

  • Private fee charging schools for upper middle and rich classes.
  • Government and municipal schools for middle and lower middle classes.
  • NFE, EGS, alternative schools for the poor and disadvantaged.
  • Schools for child labour.
  • Schools for scheduled tribes.
  • Minority institutions.
  • Schools for the children of central government, public undertaking and the defense staff.
  • Schools for ‘talented’ rural children.

Most of these systems have developed in the name of social justice, equal opportunities and deficiency in resources. They are expected to serve the educational interests of the groups they have been established for. Are they detrimental to the principles of inclusive education and a cohesive society? Besides, most ‘exclusive’ institutions function at substandard levels and do not match the acceptable norms for the formal school system.

There is no regular system of recording and enumerating fee-charging private schools in elementary and secondary education, though it is quite large and is a growing sector. Panchmukhi (1983) estimated its extent up to 20 per cent of the total and found that it had a tendency to ‘perpetuate social inequalities and divisions’ as private schools mostly cater to children of the ‘elite’ and also offer ‘high quality’ education. This has a serious impact on issues of equity in the Indian education system (Kingdon, 1996a).

Even in government schools there are wide variations between schools located in privileged areas and those in deprived villages. Further, within the same school, ‘children of different social backgrounds often receive unequal treatment’. Analysing the situation of child labour and their education in India, Weiner (1991) finds the ‘deeply held beliefs that people who work with their minds rule and people who work with their hands are ruled’. Education ‘reinforces’ rather than breaks down this division. It has been ‘an instrument for differentiation by separating children according to social class’. The inherent cultural apartheid, sense of elitism and absence of the dignity of labour led to the failings of Gandhi's Basic Education (Panchmukhi, 1983). It ‘sought to alter the symbolic meanings of education and thereby to change the established structure of opportunities for education’ (Kumar, 1994).

This analysis highlights the structural vulnerability of the Indian school system. If it cannot provide equal opportunity to the disadvantaged among non-disabled groups, the integration or inclusion of children with disabilities would be an uphill task. What are the roadblocks to inclusion? An answer has been attempted in the next section.


An earlier section premised that one of the factors responsible for children's exclusion from school is mostly internal to the school, its culture, the curriculum and how teaching takes place. Giving a background to the historical development of schooling of children with special needs in India and referring to the unexplored cultural traditions of integration and inclusive practices in schools, Miles (1997) observes:

South Asia's historical heritage for educating children with special needs contains many of the approaches that western teachers discovered independently in the past 150 years…the cultural heritage has largely been ignored during the inflow of western educational ideas to South Asia. Some of the simpler approaches were displaced by the growing professionalisation of special education in the late 19th century. Casual integration of children with mild and moderate disabilities is still obscured in modern integration debates (p. 97).

This cultural heritage can be found in the functioning of the indigenous schools in the nineteenth century contained in the Adams Report. Adams carefully documented the thousands of such schools he saw, which reflected the diverse culture of the Indian people. The schools were entirely supported by local resources unaided by government. They produced the accountants, the lawyers, the doctors, the priests, the logicians and the bureaucrats required by nineteenth century India and also provided some mobility for disadvantaged castes (DiBona, 1983).

Earlier, the East India Company showed no official interest in education, though Christian missionaries had been engaging in educational activities since the seventeenth century. However, following pressure from the British parliament, the Company set aside, in 1813 for the first time, a portion of its revenue for educational purposes. This gave rise to the famous controversy between the Anglicists supporting Western-style education and the Orientalists advocating an education based on Indian traditions and values. Macaulay's famous Minute of 2 February 1835 finally settling the issue in favour of the Anglicists could be seen as a ‘turning point in the lengthy debate over the primary objectives of British educational policy in India’ (Fagg, 2001). The objectives and the methodology for educating the masses in India can be seen in the remarks made by Macaulay himself.

[We want] a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of this Country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population (Fagg, 2001).

The reaction to Macaulay's remarks was emotive and continues to be so. Little was done to bring any substantial changes in policy, much less in practice, though the comprehensive landmark legislation of 1854 (known as the Wood's Educational Dispatch) tried to bring in some balance: first, by accepting the direct responsibility to educate the masses and, secondly, by stressing the importance of indigenous languages (Fagg, 2001, p. 20). But the aims could not be put into practice due to the woeful lack of political will. ‘Mother-tongue instruction remained unrealized for seven decades, curricula remained uncompromisingly anglocentric, and progress towards mass education was simply risible’ (ibid.).

Steele and Taylor's observation would sum up colonial interventions in Indian education. ‘The net effect of the British education system was the creation of an army of clerks whose only function was to administer the continuation of colonial ruling structure. It was hierarchical and elitist, and top heavy with higher education at the expense of primary education (Fagg, 2001, p. 20).

Gandhi's Basic Education concept was a sincere and serious effort to completely change the educational scene of India. Kabir (1956), Kurien (1983), Panchmukhi (1983), Kumar (1994), Dyer (2000) and Fagg (2001) have made in-depth and extensive studies of Basic Education. Fagg has gone back to original sources to explore Gandhi's educational philosophy and strategy where he (Gandhi) sought the development of the body, mind and spirit together. The author finds a ‘silent social revolution’ in Gandhi's scheme, has referred to the ‘child centric’ pedagogical interpretation given to the scheme, in its defense, by the Zakir Husain Committee constituted following the Wardha Conference of the Congress in 1937. Fagg (2001) has also noted the ‘alternative pedagogy’, in which the importance of book learning is relegated, as Gandhi believed that ‘literacy in itself was no education’. It was neither ‘the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means whereby man and woman can be educated’ (p. 12).

There were elements of ‘inclusion’, which is being advocated by Western educationalists today in the context of education for children with special needs, in Gandhi's Basic Education. Learning through craft and manual training provided meaningful activity for group learning. The activities had social purpose. The child learnt as a member of a cooperative group. The aim was to inculcate in the child a spirit of cooperation and a sense of responsibility from the very beginning. It also tried to rectify the individualistic nature of the British education system, which lays more emphasis on competition rather than cooperation. It differed from the traditional education system, where a child is made a passive learner, an unwilling subject who submits to, rather than receives, education. In Basic Education, a child has immediate experience of the results of his labour. Apart from these methodological advantages of Basic Education over traditional education, it aimed to change the differential nature of the educational opportunities available to children coming from different social and economic strata of society. It was a sincere attempt to remove social and economic inequalities, particularly between manual and non-manual occupations, and thereby change attitudes towards those whose livelihood was dependent upon manual work. The scheme, however, received opposition from teachers, students and parents who felt that they were being excluded from an opportunity to enter elite occupations. the education system inherited from the British had created a class of educated elite who saw themselves distinguished and different from those who did not get education. This form of education has remained under the control of the middle class and could never take the shape of mass education that would eliminate class distinctions.

There is near unanimity among writers and commentators that Basic Education failed. Fagg (2001), however, tries to understand the reasons behind its success. He continues,

By success we can hardly mean any widespread implementation—although the scheme was not without its small-scale triumphs—but rather the extraordinary way in which Gandhi's ideas were able to enter the hearts and minds of its supporters. I would argue that it was the moral potency, that is, Gandhi's perception of truth, at the heart of the scheme which sustained it through years of diverse interpretations and significant misunderstandings of its core tenets. In envisaging a national system of education which was in every way permeated by a moral conception, Gandhi was unprecedented, and it was the very degrees to which Indians could or would respond spiritually to this fact that determined its longevity (p. 59, emphasis mine).

In the background of the historical development of school education, five ‘roadblocks’ can be identified in the process of making India's classrooms inclusive: language, prescribed textbooks, the curriculum, teaching methodologies and examinations. The perception of ‘good’ or effective and quality schools among parents, educationalists and policymakers accentuate these five internal factors.


Language teaching and medium of instruction have been one of the many educational concerns in India, where there is a hiatus between policy and practice. National policies have consistently been advocating teaching in the mother tongue and regional languages and their development. The 1986 policy accepted the language policy of 1968, and committed itself to more ‘energetic and purposeful’ development. The NPE 1986 notes:

The energetic development of Indian languages is a sine qua non for educational and cultural development. Unless this is done, the creative energies of the people will not be released, standards of education will not improve, knowledge will not spread to the people and the gulf between the intelligentsia and masses will remain if not widen further (p. 39).

The policy assumes that ‘the regional languages are already in use as the media of education at the primary and secondary stages’. The NCERT curriculum framework recommends mother tongue/regional language as the medium of instruction at all stages of school education. As regards the study of languages, it recommends the study of one language— mother tongue/regional language—for the first five years of schooling (primary) and three languages for upper primary (three years) and secondary (two years) stages in accordance with the ‘three-language formula’, which is stated in the NPE 1986 as under:

At the secondary stage, the State Governments should adopt, and vigorously implement, the three language formula which includes the study of a modern language, preferably one of the southern languages, apart from Hindi and English in the Hindi-speaking states, and of Hindi along with the regional language and English in the non-Hindi speaking states (p. 40).

It may be observed that despite the importance of study in the mother tongue and the development of regional languages the study of English has not been ignored in the country's language policy. Pedagogical requirements in favour of mother tongue and regional language as medium of instruction are also reiterated. The Education Commission Report, 1966, said,

Learning of language should not be a burden on the child at the primary stage through imposition. Such imposition can vitiate his (child's) entire attitude towards his studies and may generate hostility to the school itself. This would be counterproductive at the time when our chief objective is to ‘win the masses over to education’.

However, the craze for English language study and its imposition at the primary stage has been continuing unabated. English educated elites have always cited the advantages of English study in the modern period of scientific and technological advancement, and now in a globalising economy and in the age of information and the Internet. Those who have been the beneficiaries of English education dismiss the suggestion that the English language has been a barrier to the economic and social development of the masses. While there may not be a serious objection to the study of the English language at an appropriate stage, it would always put an additional burden on children if they are made to study it during early school years, creating further barriers to learning for children, particularly those with special needs. Advocates of English language teaching to children even at the primary level forget the Asian examples of development in countries like China, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand, which have no linkages with the study of English for their progress. They all use their languages universally for educating children. It may not be absurd to state that the goal of universalisation would further recede if there is an imposition of a non-home and alien language on young children. Since rural schools and parents want to follow urban elite schools it would be in order if the mother tongue and three-language policy is strictly enforced in all schools. This would also take care of equity and would speed up the universalisation process among the disadvantaged.


On textbooks, Gandhi wrote (NCTE, 1998):

A teacher who teaches from textbooks does not impart originality to his pupils. He himself becomes a slave of textbooks and has no opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that less the textbooks better it is for the teacher and his pupils. Textbooks seem to have been an article of commerce (p. 222).

He also recommended that textbooks, particularly for the lower standards, must mean textbooks for teachers and not for pupils. He felt that the multiplicity of textbooks would deprive the vast majority of village children of the means of instructions (NCTE, 1998, p. 220).

The problem with respect to the textbooks is not only their multiplicity, thereby increasing the ‘load of the school bag’, but their ‘prescription’, a practice which presumably started during the colonial period as they wanted to control what was being taught to children. Prescribed textbooks with their heavy content and linkages with examinations put an additional burden on children with disabilities, as they leave little scope for teachers to explore original strategies to involve these children in classrooms so as to make learning a participatory experience. The aim of the teacher gets reduced to ‘finishing the textbook’ from cover to cover before the examination, which means learning the contents by rote and memorisation as questions in the examinations are asked mostly to recall the content of these textbooks.

The NCERT had formulated a national curriculum for schools, for the first time in 1977. A committee had been constituted to review the curriculum. Two members of the committee very significantly highlighting their obsession with ‘book-based’ education said,

The review could not be just a modification of the NCERT document on the curriculum for the ten-year school, but an attempt had to be made to construct a new scheme in view of the new dimension as of work based education in relation to the national development. It is difficult to modify a scheme based on the centrality of book-base rather than the centrality of the work base (www.edu.nic.in, emphasis mine).

The members also recommended against any type of centralised effort to prepare even model textbooks. The centrality of book-based school education is jeopardising our goals in many respects, as will be seen in the following sections.


Curriculum remains a mystifying word in the Indian school system. For general teachers, parents and students, it is deemed to be the contents given in a set of subjects which children should master in order to score high marks at the end of the school year, either at the school level examination or in the public examination conducted by school boards. The ‘set of subjects’ are synonymous with the prescribed textbooks written by ‘experts’ at the national or state levels. The three terms—curriculum, syllabus and textbooks—are often used with finer distinctions between them. While the national curriculum framework is prepared by the NCERT, the syllabus and textbooks are prepared by state school boards, though the NCERT also prepares syllabi and ‘model’ textbooks to be used largely by the central school system and may also be adopted or adapted by the states. In practice for most of the teachers, however, as also for the students, the prescribed textbooks generally become the bibles for education and learning. They hardly refer to or bother about the objectives laid down and concerns shown in the curriculum and the syllabus at national or state levels. In their report on ‘Learning without Burden’, the Yash Pal Committee observes,

Teachers routinely complain that they do not have enough time to explain anything in detail, or to organise activities in the classroom. ‘Covering’ the syllabus seems to have become an end in itself, unrelated to the philosophical and social aims of education. The manner in which the syllabus is ‘covered’ in the average classroom is by means of reading the textbook aloud with occasional noting of salient points on the blackboard (MHRD, 1993, p. 5).

There is no concept of developing curriculum at the school or even at the individual level, in addition to and within the framework of the national/state level curriculum. Such a hierarchy of curriculum, syllabus and prescribed textbooks has become unique to the Indian school system. One does not find such sharp and unrelated distinctions between the three in the curriculum of developed countries. In most places, school teachers and the community have a responsibility or at least a say in what children should study in a particular school. In the UK, the idea of having a national curriculum is very recent, following the 1988 Education Act, which has been receiving criticism from educationalists, but still schools have space to manoeuvre and are required to develop their own curriculum within the broad framework of the national curriculum. In Indian schools, could the very approach to curriculum (and also syllabus and textbooks) be a major factor for alienation of the community and even teachers from the schooling system? Dyer (2000) observes:

Even the curricular revisions initiated and led by the NCERT have not effectively addressed the alienation between the existing model of education and the majority of people it is supposed to serve…. The curricular changes does not address the form of learning that has been institutionalised…teaching constitutes a responsibility to ensure that children are able to repeat parrot fashion the contents of their text books.

What could be the simple but broader definition of curriculum? ‘Curriculum encompasses everything the child learns within the school. For the child, the curriculum is what the teachers enable to happen in the classroom.’1

For bringing the disabled and the disadvantaged closer to the school, it is important that the barrier created by the artificial division between curriculum, syllabus and textbook is removed, and the system start thinking in terms of individual level and school curricula. The first would respond to the needs of each child, particularly those with disabilities, and the second would bring the school closer to the community. Britain's Warnock Committee (DES, 1978) gave a re-look at the school level curriculum so as to integrate children with disabilities in regular classes. It referred to the curriculum as ‘those school activities, which set out to achieve specific aims within the general aims of education as a whole.’ It refers to the four inter-related elements that contribute to the development of curriculum: setting of objectives, choice of materials and experiences, choice of teaching and learning methods to attain the objectives and appraisal of the appropriateness of the objectives, and the effectiveness of the means of achieving them.

In order to prepare the ordinary schools for educating children with special needs, the Warnock report suggested at least ‘two senses’ in which curriculum modification may be necessary. First, modification of materials may be necessary for children with physical or sensory disabilities who may be able to follow an ordinary curriculum. For example, the conversion of printed material into Braille for children with impaired vision. Secondly, modification of teaching objectives as well as materials may be required for those with mild or moderate learning problems. For example, more focus on the learning of communication, and living and social skills for children with mental disabilities or retardation. Modifications in textbooks would come under this category. The argument would be that teachers could still use other materials, though textbooks have been prescribed. The experience is, however, once something has been prescribed, there is not much scope or urge to exercise choice.


NPE 1986 in regard to teaching methodology observes:

A warm, welcoming and encouraging approach, in which all concerned share solicitude for the needs of the child, is the best motivation for the child to attend school and learn. A child centred and activity based process of learning should be adopted…learners should be allowed to set their own pace…. As the child grows, the component of cognitive learning will be increased and skills organised through practice (MHRD, 1998, p.14, emphasis mine).

After reviewing the 1986 policy, the Programme of Action developed in 1992 provides another set of policy and action guidelines. Though the NPE did not mention content and process for educating the handicapped (it only listed the measures to be taken), the POA filled this gap and offered the child centred theory, propounded for the non-disabled. It observes:

Curriculum flexibility is of special significance for these [handicapped] children. Special needs of these children will be met, if child centred education is practiced. The curriculum adjustment and adaptation of teaching methods and material will be worked out, field tried and provided to the users (MHRD, 1992, p. 19, emphasis mine).

The POA thereafter goes on to list the actions to be taken, mostly by the NCERT as also by the school boards.

Going by these policy pronouncements, one at least gets satisfaction that the agenda for inclusive education has been set up, as the child-centred methodology of schooling has been recommended for all children. This term, however, is more spoken, less understood and the least practiced. It is very common to use it in educational seminars, conferences, workshops, etc., along with two other terms—activity-based and joyful learning. The obsession of policymakers with child-centred education does not seem new. The Zakir Husain Committee constituted in 1937 to work out the syllabus for Gandhi's Basic Education explained the child centric approach in it, correlating craft based education with the physical and social environment.

All these years the concept has remained on paper. However, efforts have been made at the micro level to understand and practice it, though the regular system, particularly the government sector schools, has not been able to accept and internalise it. It remains a matter of investigation to find out the factors inhibiting the child-centre methodology that could bring the disabled and non-disabled together in schools. Could it be that this method cannot work in isolation; that it is linked with the current approach to centralised curriculum and the ‘prescribed’ textbook policy of the government with almost no autonomy to teachers?

A modest attempt was made to understand the concept underlying these terms in a workshop with a group of educational workers associated with the UNICEF supported Bihar Education Project (BEP). The workshop raised the following questions2:

  • Are teachers ‘givers’ and student ‘takers’?
  • Do children not learn and experience anything before they come to school and outside the school?
  • Are they (children) ‘empty pitchers’ and need to be ‘filled in’ inside the school?

The workshop also questioned certain hypotheses:

  • That the teacher knows everything and students know nothing.
  • That the teacher acts and initiates activities and the students follow them truthfully.
  • That the teacher disciplines, and students are disciplined.

In the background of these questions, the definition of the three terms emerged:

Activity: Not just a toy or a game or a play. Any learning process in which children feel involved and the process is free from ‘control’. It means not only mere ‘participation’ by all children but also their ‘involvement.’

Joyful: Joy not merely from games or plays but the joy of learning, of achieving and of experiencing.

Child-centred: Children also ‘know’, have experience and can contribute. Learning may begin from there. The challenge is to understand the children, and not to ignore or dismiss them.

My understanding is that if school learning were organised on these concepts the distinctions between the non-disabled and disabled would recede to a great extent and the process of inclusive education would begin.


How do examinations affect education in India and perpetrate the exclusion of the disadvantaged? In India, students study for examinations. It determines their future, even fate. It brings joy for a few, but sorrow and stress for most. It even drives some to end their lives. It is risky, tricky and luck plays a great role in achieving success in examinations. Examinations also drive out many children, particularly the rural, the disadvantaged and the disabled, out of the school. It is a great filtering mechanism. It suits the system, since only a select few students, largely from the urban middle class, get high scores, thanks to the system of tuitions and coaching, in order to get admission into higher academic institutions, which have limited seats. The system of examinations, intimately associated with the concept of pass and fail, also seems to be a colonial legacy since the British wanted only a limited few to either serve them or get into higher education.

It is one area of education where the gap between policy and implementation is the widest, though a series of commissions and committees have been recommending reforms. As early as 1902, the Indian University Commission had observed that ‘the teaching in Indian education stood subordinated to examinations and not examination to teaching’ (MHRD, 1990, p. 290). The NPE 1986 considered examinations an ‘integral part of any teaching and learning…[It] should be employed to bring about qualitative improvement in education…[It should be recast] so as to ensure a method of assessment that is a valid and reliable measure of student development and a powerful instrument for improving teaching and learning.’ The policy called for the elimination of subjectivity, de-emphasis of memorisation, continuous and comprehensive evaluation of the scholastic and non-scholastic parts of the curriculum, introduction of the semester system from the secondary stage and the use of grades in the place of marks.

There is already a policy of no-retention at the primary and secondary stages. The NCERT Curriculum Framework, 2000 recommends that at the secondary stage ‘no student will be declared pass or fail’. Courses will be modularised for organising them into semesters. The system of mass public examination is expected to be gradually replaced by school-based continuous and comprehensive evaluation, on a grading basis and the same would be extended to co-scholastic areas also, such as work education, health and physical education and art education. An ambitious plan indeed, if it could be implemented! One of the factors why rural and disadvantaged children lag behind could be the excessive emphasis on the so-called scholastic area and almost nil attention to that part of the curriculum which would require more use of skills and hands such as art education, work education and physical education. Such an urban and elite bias in favour of curriculum implementation and evaluation has been impeding successes on the part of the disadvantaged and the disabled. For the disabled in particular, the POA 1992 as well as the PWD Act, 1995 call upon the board of examinations to make adjustments and adaptations for their examination. It says ‘more than one language should not be compulsory for deaf children’. Education and inclusion of the disabled and the disadvantaged, however, would be facilitated by not mere cosmetic changes in the system of examination, but by bringing in a complete overhaul as envisaged in the national policy and the NCERT Curriculum Framework. Commenting on the present examination system, says Krishna Kumar,

The examination system is actually cheating the masses by concealing the deep divisions that exist within the education system, where a poor mill-worker's child from a neglected government school is made to compete with children from well-to-do public schools. The system submerges these ugly realities under a veneer of total parity among candidates. But it hardly needs probing to find that a majority of failures belong to the disadvantaged (PROBE Report, 1999, p. 81).


One of the major aims of urban parents these days is their children getting admission in a ‘good’ school, which is mostly a high fee charging private school with a ‘brand name’ that brings social status. In rural India too, ambitious parents look out for schools with anglicised names, which are mushrooming these days and are thriving because of the inefficiency of the government school system. While parents look out for good schools, policymakers are worried about quality education and researchers and educationalists are trying to find out what makes schooling effective. All agree children's results in terminal public examinations is an indicator of a ‘good’ school. How do these so-called good schools secure excellent results?

There is some research evidence to suggest that the contribution of private schools in students’ performance in public examinations is not very significant. A comparative study of government, government aided and private schools of Delhi by Qamar and Zahid (2001) produced three major findings: First, private schools enroll students with higher socio-economic status than the other schools, a fact very obvious to many. Second, private schools impose more rigorous screening at the time of admission and allow only selected students to appear at the board examinations. Third, in terms of ‘value addition’ to the performance of students in the Class 12 examination, while government aided schools showed a value addition of 22 per cent and the private aided school showed an addition of 19 per cent, the ‘private schools did not make any value addition’. Mukhopadhyay and Anil (2001) have made similar findings after studying the learners’ profiles of Rajasthan's nineteen government aided/private and government schools. The study has indicated that private schools screen students in Classes 5 and 6 and review performance in Class 8. In government schools, however, there is no restriction on admission. Students can enroll in any class, any time. They further observe:

Quality schools usually have screened learners…can quality be propagated at the cost of equity, and equality of educational opportunities? Or does one need to view the issue of quality differently? Unfortunately achievement as an indicator has dominated the system for too long. Other indicators are neither expressed nor can be witnessed in the present school system. Even policy makers, planners and implementers, all are too much involved in boosting the achievement concern (p. 195).

The Duggal Committee constituted by the Delhi High Court to examine the claim for fee hikes by private schools in Delhi did not appreciate such hikes in the name of providing ‘quality’ education (Duggal Committee, 1999, p. 102).

Literature on effective schooling suggests three models for assessing the performance of a school and making plans for its improvement. The ‘received model’, as the name suggests, is based on identifiable inputs that could go into the making of an effective school. It is based on the assumption that the school as an organisation can have an effect on student or pupil outcomes. This is opposed to the assumption that it is non-school factors which also have effects on school effectiveness. The ‘heretical model’ is dependent upon moral, values and other factors that go into the overall development of children. It balances the criticism of the received model. One researcher terms it the ‘feel-good factor’. To take into account the strengths of both the models, and to offer a positive alternative that synthesises both, some researchers have offered a third model, which is the contextual model. This model is fundamentally concerned with the capacities, potential and limitations of schools. It takes into consideration the context, which means a school's linkage with the community, its intakes, that is students seeking admissions in it, and autonomy given to its teachers to chalk up their plan and strategy in organisational as also in respect of curriculum and pedagogy (Lunt and Norwich, 1999).

Developing the question of effectiveness based on the third model and for addressing the issue of equity one would like to revisit the policy on the ‘common school system’. The NPE 1986 observes:

The Constitution embodies the principles on which the National System of Education is conceived of. The concept of a National System of Education implies that, up to a given level, all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex, have access to education of a comparable quality. To achieve this, the Government will initiate appropriately funded programmes. Effective measures will be taken in the direction of the Common School System recommended in the 1968 policy (MHRD, 1998, p. 5).

The 1968 policy had accepted the recommendation of the Education Commission, 1964-66, which had originally advocated the concept. They had outlined the following features of the common school system of public education:

  • It will be open to all children irrespective of social, economic and other differences.
  • Access to education will depend upon talent.
  • Adequate standards would be maintained.
  • No tuition fee would be charged.
  • The average parent would not ordinarily feel the need of sending his children to expensive schools outside the system (MHRD, 1990, p. 91).

However, no measures were announced either in the POA 1986 or the modified POA 1992 to implement the 1986 national policy. The CABE Committee on the common school system called for neighbourhood schools, qualitative improvement of education in the public sector and identification of target areas. While reviewing the implementation of the 1986 policy the Ramamurty Committee made two very significant recommendations which could address the issue of equity in the Indian education system. First, it called for ‘essential minimum legislation, particularly to dispense with early selection process, tuition fee, capitation fee, etc.’ Secondly, it suggested ‘exploring ways of including the expensive private schools into the common school system through a combination of incentives, disincentives and legislation’ (MHRD, 1990, p. 93).

In developed countries the question is being raised whether a school's excellence be considered only on the basis of its position in the ‘league tables’ or whether the number of children with special needs integrated into the school should also be a contributory factor. In order to fully realise the goal of inclusive education, the issues related to the systemic and structural reform of the school system cannot be shelved. The policy on the common school system combined with the Ramamurty Committee recommendations could make a beginning. And, there are some schools which believe in neighbourhood schools. Says a principal of a Delhi school: ‘My school follows the neighbourhood policy. The question of a huge gap between demand and supply would not arise if this was taken seriously by both parents and schools. The school should not refuse admission to a neighbourhood child. There will be parents who will go to any length for a brand name. It is the school, which has to be strict.’3

Without having a sound neighbourhood policy of the common school system, getting all the children with disabilities, even the mild and moderate ones, would be a tall order.


India is in an advantageous situation as compared with developed countries in respect of bringing children with disabilities in regular schools for more than one reason. Miles (1997) has traced a set of techniques and teaching methodologies from the Indian scriptures, which are being advocated today by the Western educationalist for creating inclusive pedagogy in schools. They include:

  • Let them stay, for whatever they can learn.
  • Let them go, when they are not able to learn.
  • Try it a different way.
  • Adjust the curriculum to match their needs.
  • Give the social benefits of educational initiation, even where the intellectual process cannot be maintained.
  • Observe closely what the child can do.
  • Give them more time.
  • Provide role models of people with disabilities supporting themselves.
  • Use materials specifically designed for them.

Due to such a cultural background, India still has ‘casual integration’ of children with mild and moderate disabilities, while the issue of its principles, ideology and technology are still being debated in the West. The author feels that it may be worthwhile to return to the ‘historical disability experience within Indian civilisations and build on the positive elements found there’. Hence, the best option could be to open the school gate, break the walls and let children with disabilities in. There may be no need for a detailed ‘survey’ and ‘assessment’ of these children before they get into schools. More often than not, such surveys are conducted for assessing the requirement of funding and incentives for children. It may not have any educational relevance and may even become counter productive. Only in cases of children with profound disabilities, some specialised educational services may have to be arranged.

Western countries have developed a parallel system of special schools and professionals managing this system. For any accelerated process of integration, they have to dismantle the organised special school system. Though India has some special schools in the voluntary sector, their number (around 2,500) is too small when compared to the approximately one million elementary and secondary schools in the country. Besides, there has been no serious public policy of establishing special schools. Hence, inclusion becomes inevitable in order to educate the disabled and achieve the goal of education for all. India does not have a policy restriction on the line of SEN as faced by teachers and children in the UK. Regular teachers in India's mainstream schools are free to use inclusive pedagogy and involve all children in the learning process.

The country has the advantage of experiencing many micro initiatives, highly innovative and radical, that could beacon the educational reforms in India. This has been as a result of the positive shift in policy since the mid-1980s and 1990s with emphasis on ‘quality’ of education. As a result of such a shift many projects such as DPEP, Lok Jumbish, Siksha Karmi and Bihar Education Project focussed on the mobilisation of the community and formation of village education committees to support elementary schooling (Varghese, 2000). Inclusion in a practical sense means active involvement and participation in the educational process by children. Hence teachers' training has to base itself upon this principle. Most of the innovations in teacher's training are articulating this principle into practice. Training of teachers by the NGO Digantar in Rajasthan, and the ‘Ujala’ programme initiated by the BEP in the eastern province of Bihar gave a new meaning to training by building partnerships with teachers and the community (Jha, 1998).

Partnerships with NGOs have been another hallmark of the recent policy initiatives by the government. The PROBE Report (1999) observes commonalities among three notable initiatives— Eklavya in Madhya Pradesh, Lok Jumbish in Rajasthan and the MV Foundation in Andhra Pradesh. They work not as a substitute for government schools; rather, they try to support the regular system and ensure that deprived children are able to join the same schools as other children.

Some salient features of successful programmes which have been able to include disadvantaged groups in the educational process include (adapted from MHRD, 2001b):

Eklavya project in Madhya Pradesh: The programme is organised on the philosophy that given the chance, children have the capacity to imagine and create traits that need to be nurtured and encouraged. The school curriculum has been developed on the principles of learning by discovery, learning through activity and learning from the environment. Textbooks are in the form of workbooks. Vocabularies are local and simple. Subject matter is meaningful and contextual. A system of open book examinations and practical examinations has also been developed.

MV Foundation programme in Andhra Pradesh: The programme targets child labour, bringing them to camps and taking them through a ‘bridge course’ before they are admitted into regular schools. The programme has proved that elimination of child labour and universalisation of education can be achieved when education through the formal school is universalised. There are no low cost solutions to achieving universalisation. The NFE stream is incapable of making any impact on the child labour situation in the country. There is no need to run segregated child labour schools, and it is possible to integrate these children in regular schools after some preparatory education.

Digantar in Rajasthan: The programme does not practice the existing pattern of dividing children into different classes. The freedom of pace of learning is its cardinal principle. Children are divided into groups with different levels of learning. The system of multi-level teaching is used. The school has its own curriculum and has developed its own textbooks, which are in modular forms. Teachers' training is a very critical component of the programme. Participatory training methodologies are used and every teacher has to go through training for four months in phases before joining the school. Teachers meet weekly to reflect on the problems faced by them, find solutions collectively and plan for the next week.

Nali Kali in Karnataka: The programme is being run in the formal school system. Schools follow the state curriculum but have developed their own methods for transaction, which is not based on textbooks. A lot of learning materials, such as cards containing the learning items, have been developed. Children learn in groups and move at their own pace. The groups are partially teacher supported, fully teacher supported or peer group supported. There are also self-learning groups. Multi-grade and multi-level learning are organised through group activities and children move to learning ladders. The whole process is well organised and demonstrative.

Rishi Valley project in Andhra Pradesh: In this school, the learning activities are planned through more than a thousand systematically designed study cards and work cards together with an achievement ladder. Multiple steps in each unit of learning include introductory, reinforcement, evaluation and remedial activities. Students learn in groups or individually and peer support is evident. Sixty per cent of the curriculum is core while 40 per cent is left to be organised by teachers with the help of students. Training helps teachers to prepare their own materials. The Nali Kali programme in Karnataka is based on the Rishi Valley experience, the difference being, however, that the former is being run in the formal system.

Loreto Day School in West Bengal: It is a regular secondary school charging tuition fees from students like any other private school in India. But it has opened its door to non-fee paying students from the nearby slums and the poorer localities. Some of these students also receive free books, school meals and uniforms with funds from donors, government grants and cross-subsidisation from fee paying students. In yet another initiative in the school, regular students from Classes 5 to 10 individually tutor street children on a one-to-one basis. Regular students do this activity as a part of their school curriculum under the work education programme. After these children completed preparatory learning, some of them got admitted into Loreto Day School or other formal schools in the city. (Jessop, 1998).

The six case studies discussed have many common elements.

Working under existing policy they have been able to develop school specific curricula, their own textbooks in some cases and a variety of unique learning materials and learning activities.

  • They have been designed to ‘include’ the disadvantaged in the educational process and the system.
  • They have community involvement and strong partnership with parents and the community.
  • They have been using several ‘inclusion’ technologies and pedagogy, though they may not have been conscious of meeting the ‘special needs’ of children.

There should be no difficulty in ‘including’ children with disabilities in such programmes once it is demystified to teachers in such schools that these children need not be taught separate curricula in special schools. Additional support to them arranged in such inclusive settings may be more profitable. The other challenge to these non-traditional teaching programmes is to transplant them in the regular system, which would require effort on the part of all the policymakers, teacher educators, teachers, parents and the community.