Educating the Policymakers: The Need for Implementing Inclusion in the International Community

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Educating the Policymakers: The Need for Implementing Inclusion in the International Community

By Pavan John Antony, Adelphi University

Inclusion is a buzz word that is visible in most educational documents in the international community.  Many countries around the globe have adopted inclusive systems of education with the primary aim of educating all its citizens in regular classrooms.  However, ten years after the World Education Forum adopted the Dakar Framework for Action, “Education for all,” there are still more than 113 million children in the world who have no access to primary education, and 880 million adults are illiterate (Puri & Abraham 2004).  These reports encourage us to think about the effectiveness of implementing educational laws and policies globally.  In other words it is important, to rethink if we need better policies or if we should educate those people in power who might not understand the implications of inclusive education.  For the purpose of this article we will use India as an example.

In India alone, it is estimated by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) that there are 30 million children with disabilities in India (Office of Chief Commissioner of the State, as cited in Singhal, 2006).  However newspapers and some nonprofit organizations estimate that 60-70 million people with disabilities reside in the country.  Timmons and Alur (2004) estimated a total of 50 million people who are “disabled” or have “special needs” (p. 40).   So it is important to note that the existing data on the number of people with disabilities in India are highly unreliable.  Despite the passage of several laws to implement inclusive education, a government report in 1994 stated that ninety eight percent of the “disabled” do not receive any care from the government (Alur, 2007; Timmons & Alur, 2004).  This is the status of the second largest populated country in the world.

Today when admission of children with disabilities to any public school is no longer an issue in countries like the United States, millions of children with disabilities in places like India struggle to find an education or disability-related services in their home lands.  The word inclusion gained momentum in Indian setting especially after the country became involved in international initiatives on inclusive education.  The Salamanca Statement is considered one of these significant initiatives to implement inclusive education in the international community.  By signing this agreement, India agreed to educate all its children with disabilities in regular schools with no segregation.  However, even today inclusive education has no accepted definition in the Indian context (Singhal & Rouse, 2003).  It is considered to be an utopian ideology in India (Sen as cited in Singhal, 2005).  Moreover, the terms “inclusion” and “integration” are used interchangeably by researchers in the Indian context (Singhal, 2005, 2006; Kalyanpur 2008).  There is no direct meaning for the word “inclusion” when translated into any of the thirty five languages spoken in the country.

It is very clear that there is a state of confusion from the top to bottom levels government officials regarding the concept of inclusion.  When this confusion exists among people in power, a similar state of the general public is easily understandable.  Based on my personal work experiences, several parents of children with disabilities were not only unaware of their legal rights but also failed to translate or understand the meaning of words like “IEP” written on their reports from teachers in special schools.

Today, special schools in India continue to provide services for its few citizens with disabilities in segregated settings.  Throughout India the majority of services for people with disabilities are delivered through nonprofit organizations.  These organizations operate mainly in urban areas, while seventy percent of Indians live in rural areas (Timmons & Alur, 2004).  Further, as these schools charge fees, they are inaccessible to the poor.  So it is clear that the education of

poor children with disabilities special schools is nearly impossible and children, whether rich or poor, in rural areas have virtually no access to any education.   Further, most of the special schools fail to admit children with severe or intense service needs.  There is no research base to point to reasons for the failure to admit these children in special schools.  However, the reasons could be due to the lack of trained teachers and service providers  or resources.  Children with disabilities remain invisible from the general public and continue to be an oppressed group in the entire society.

India is one of the 35 countries not likely to meet the goals of “Education for All” by 2015.  I would argue that countries like India will not be “Fully Educated” unless all its citizens with disabilities are educated in regular public schools from a young age.  When our leaders and policymakers continue to make and modify national and international policies to include all children, they forget the fact that countries like India are still struggling to fully implement the first international (Salamanca) initiative to include all children into its education system. Policymakers at national and international levels continue to build new projects and refine existing policies on inclusion based on unimplemented policies, while forgetting to look at past failures.

This is the time to set a new agenda at international level: LET’S EDUCATE THE POLICYMAKERS