Awareness about health issues, their causes, incidence, and risk factors still lacks amongst Indian citizens. Studies and surveys are conducted to create the same but not every health condition find a mention in the database.
Intellectual disability is one such example that remains untouched from the extensive studies and surveys conducted by the government. Given that 21 million people suffer from one or the other disability in India, the problem demands greater consideration from our government.
The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) estimates that currently 1.8% of the total Indian population is disabled, yet the data may not be completely accurate. The prevalence of intellectual disability has been estimated at 1-4% i.e. about 20 people per 1000 in the population.
The data collected from various resources shows the spread and pervasiveness of intellectual disability amongst the general masses, more so in the child population placing about 33% in the category of disabled. However, talking about the rate at which the cases are being diagnosed, the data is wanting.
This reflects the negligence on the part of the Indian government to calculate and remedy intellectual disability in our population. It thinks that by revising the nomenclature of the condition from mentally retarded to intellectual disability, it has completed its job.
Yes, currently the term Intellectual disability is being used instead of mental retardation to pay regards to such people and free them from the stigma of being mentally retarded. But the change in nomenclature has not broken the prejudice and discrimination against them by even an inch.
The rural, underprivileged areas and male sex account for maximum cases of intellectual disability, but psychiatrists are still doubtful of the causes of higher prevalence of the condition in such people.
The Indian population not only by its size, also by the diversity in psychosocial, educational, economical and cultural background offers difficulty in conducting surveys with high accuracy. A limited number of specialists and lack of standard tools for assessment are added flaws.
Moreover, those with a mild degree of disability remain unidentified, being involved in a semi-skilled vocation and in a structured and restricted environment.
The shortcomings in computing the incidence and magnitude of intellectual disability in the Indian population are just one of the deficits in the Indian government’s efforts to support the disabled children of our country.
Adding to the grievances, no single ministry has been assigned to protect these intellectually disabled children. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has been assigned the responsibility to look into the same with some of the issues being managed by the health ministry. This results in varying data about the occurrence of disability in children.
The pre-independence era of the country witnessed a period of segregation and discrimination of disabled children. Though physically challenged children also faced the same, the ones with mental challenges were more stigmatised. Separate schools were constructed under charitable and voluntary organisations to provide education to the disabled community but still intellectually disabled received the least attention, more so at the last.
After independence, things seem to have changed a bit but not as much as needed to create a positive impact on the lives of intellectually weakened members of our society. The Indian Government formulated the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 to safeguard the rights of disabled members.
Do you know what this act is supposed to do for the challenged members of our society?
Provide free education, integrate disabled children into regular schools, make space for the special schools to cater to their needs and work in alignment with the regular schools, train teachers to attend to the students with special needs, design vocational training and non-formal education programmes and a never-ending list of instructions to preserve the rights of such people.
But reality is exactly opposite of what is quoted under the portfolio of the Act.
Disability in India is still functioning in the realm of social welfare instead of a rights perspective. Teachers are not trained; schools face a drought of infrastructure, and the curriculum is not designed to meet the needs of the challenged.
Mental health disorders account for one-sixth of all health disorders, yet India spends only 0.83% of its health budget on mental health. Only 8% of the mentally disabled children attend schools past the second grade. Reasons are numerous; no access to quality education especially in rural areas, schools denying admission, stigma and fear amongst parents regarding bullying and aggressive behaviour towards their child and most importantly the lack of proper infrastructure to cater to their special needs.
The National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE), brought out by the NCERT, recommends inclusive schools for children with special needs to provide them with an environment conducive to their normal development alongside their non-disabled peers.
However, the government needs to tread a long path in conceptualising this development. Developing inclusive schools that cater to a wide range of pupils in both urban and rural areas requires an articulation of a clear and forceful policy on inclusion together with adequate financial provision; effective public awareness to combat prejudice and create informed and positive attitudes; an extensive programme for training the educational staff; and the provision of necessary support services.
Schools need to restructure their curriculum, buildings, organisation, pedagogy, assessment, staffing, ethos, and extracurricular activities keeping in mind the special needs of disabled children and help in their holistic development and lead a fruitful life.
An inclusive curriculum means one curriculum for all students rather than a separate one for the students with special needs and another for those without. Apart from the curriculum, the teaching methodologies must be revised according to the capabilities of the disabled child.
People must understand that such children may be slow to learn, to adapt but are not a burden on the family or the society. A little extra care and effort will make them bloom like any other child.
This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of ScooNews magazine. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month.
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