Why isn’t inclusion still on the agenda of schools’? How small can our bubbles get?

VL & JL are sisters; my schoolmates, class 1 through 10 (’79-’89). VL was a couple of years older and autistic (we didn’t know that then). We only knew she was ‘different’ from us — but as kids tend to be, we were in turns terribly mean and fantastically kind.

I am sure the nuns in the convent didn’t give much thought to admitting VL — the parents wanted her to have a bit of education, preferably along with the ‘smarter’ younger sister.

Experts, I guess, will agree that the nuns — best intentions be damned — did the girls a disservice. I say girls, because both VL & JL got the short end of the straw.

The teachers let VL be; VL didn’t want that, she wanted to be part of everything; So it fell on JL not only to support her sister (which is to be expected), but be totally responsible for her (which is unfair).

Ideally, VL should have gone to a school like this or this to begin with, before she was included again.

But I am not going fault the nuns — their intentions were sympathetic at worst, noble at best. And like most sympathetic intentions, this didn’t go quite right either.

Anyway, by talking about what happened a good 20+ years ago, I am merely placing in context, my current grouse.

Why isn’t inclusion more prevalent?

Why aren’t our school rooms more accommodative of children who are challenged in some manner? Or differentl-abled… or whatever the current politically correct nomenclature is.

Am sorry if I sound rude, but at the end of the day, words don’t mean much — handicapped, crippled, disabled, challenged, differently-abled. If we don’t provide an opportunity to integrate at 5-or 6-years in fairly prejudice-free environs of a school, how will we ensure integration at workplaces that are predisposed to biases?

What the nuns unwittingly managed to achieve, over 10 years, was to sensitise a bunch of us. To get us to understand that being ‘different’ wasn’t bad. That being in school was not merely about cent percent marks and state ranks.

Unfortunately, my daughter after 5 years of schooling has little or no exposure to children who are different from her. She associates physical or mental disability with children in war-torn areas of the Middle East or drought-hit regions of Africa. Because she sees them only on Red Crescent or Zakat postcards/tickets that are sold outside supermarkets. She thinks that those who cannot see, hear, talk, don’t look ‘normal’ must be poor, and in need of financial help.

She is 8-years-old, and the conversation with her is ongoing. Hopefully, her perceptions will change.

But the point is, shouldn’t there be a more level playing field?

Shouldn’t children who can see study with those who can’t? Those who can hear/talk play with those who are unable to?

Shouldn’t children with different cognitive abilities learn to work together?

Every time someone ‘different’ becomes part of a group or process, everyone benefits. In fact, the ‘normal’ folks get a lot more out of it.

In our quest to rear little geniuses and celebrate precocity, aren’t we failing our kids by not giving them a more wholesome education experience?

Most of us are threatened by people and experiences that don’t fall within our comfort level — that means excluding those with disabilities, those of different sexual orientation, of a foreign faith, even nationality… We want to make our bubbles/boxes as tight and as compact as possible. Be warned, you will suffocate! 

In Qatar, because of the high rate of consanguineous marriages (over 50%), the incidence of congenital disorders is also quite high. Premarital genetic testing is now compulsory, and to-be-wed couples are counselled.
Shafallah Centre and Al Noor Institute for Blind are the main centres here, in this area of education. The latter has made attempts at setting up inclusion rooms in a few schools.  The biggest problem here is that these cater to Arabic-speaking children alone, when between 30-40% of the population comprises non-Arabic speaking expatriates.
Some of the international schools do have provisions for students with learning disabilities, but a more wholistic approach to inclusion is missing.

13 thoughts on “Why isn’t inclusion still on the agenda of schools’? How small can our bubbles get?

  1. Nilu says:

    Oh my God, when you write, I feel somebody is just taking my words and putting them out there! I agree 100% with you on this one!

    US schools are a bit ahead on this one. We do have schools which bring together different kids under one roof – but we still have a long way to go(with the prejudice factor)

  2. Aparna Karthikeyan says:

    Vani, I have had quite a diff experience… L has been to schools which have all been inclusive. I remember, when she was in Year 1 (we had just moved to London then), she was SLAPPED on her first day by a special child. She accepted it; accepted the kid; and the disability.
    Moving on to Amsterdam, we have had VERY mixed feelings and experiences with inclusion.. I seriously believe its ok, as long as the ones who go there for an education get it, without the teachers time being taken entirely by the kids who have NO clue what’s happening…. we have had kids in her class with special needs – many have been her close friends, she has learnt to help and accept, and so have we parents. But the few disruptive ones (disruptive to the point of destructive) throw a bad light on the whole concept of inclusion… in the higher classes – trust me, Ive been there for the open week – there is NO way a teacher can get any teaching done to a class of very mixed ability!
    Here, in E’burgh, she has MANY dyslexic kids in her class… most of them have special laptops to help them out with transcripting the lessons… the kids are all VERY supportive to the ones who need it…
    so yeah, I guess it can work, depending on the level of disability, and like everything, one size does not fit all!
    The Blog rocks btw… LOVE your subjects…. most of them ring such a resounding chord!

  3. Suba Pradha says:

    i do remeber vj & jl … holy times in life cant be forgotten.. i remember that many were afraid of her – she was was quite an angered person – for some reason or the other , which at that age we coulndt make out why. the school did take good care no matter what & the poor sister was almost like a mum to her. i appreciate that sissy courage at that age to take responsibility .
    we had many such girls in school, other than her like raja laxmi – she is still in chennai has a son who has the same problem as her.

    coming to the view of having mixed kinds of ppl at school – yes i think depending on the level in which they are ( in terms of understanding) one such attempt to put them together may be not on everyday basis but for some occasion, or once a week should be a good way to make the normal ones understand – they better face the world of reality from childhood. !

  4. UmmON says:

    @N, AK, SP: Inclusion has to happen only when the children with special needs are ready.
    It’s important that the schools that allow inclusion are equipped with special tutors, counsellors etc to handle the mix.
    SP: Even VL ended up marrying a cousin didn’t she? More and more inter-breeding. Really unhealthy.

  5. UmmON says:

    From Oviya’s first teacher, Annette Venkat:

    vani, it is important for us to understand that each one of us is unique and have our niche in this beautiful place called earth. I would not consider any child or for that matters any one with a disability different. It is that some of us do not fit into the norm.

    Life is all about, like you said, accepting and respecting the differences. I have always tried to help children with “so called difficulties” despite the constraints of space at school and teacher student ratio.

    We have to be aware of that these children need special attention and time.

    As parents and teachers it is upon us to make our children understand that being different is OK and to be helpful whenever the need arises.

  6. Rama Balakrishnan says:

    Inter marriages are blamed for many of lifes accidents but unfortunately many are ignorant about its consequences. Another popular misconception is ” if they get married it will sort itself out” . With my mom living with me at the moment I have heard many stories about relatives who have had to bear with this kind of life.

    At schools here all kids are tested for various problems. The parents are not aware of this as they are tested as though its part of the school curriculum. Kids who need help are then identified and parents are contacted with suggestions and alternate study structures. Unless they need a very special school these kids are intergrated into normal school life with a few of them haveing facilitators to help them. this way they are not disruptive and the rest of the class does not bear the brunt of their “problems” ( for want of a better word)

  7. Indian Homemaker says:

    I totally agree with you UmmON. And all the children benefit from inclusive education.

    ‘…excluding those with disabilities, those of different sexual orientation, of a foreign faith, even nationality… We want to make our bubbles/boxes as tight and as compact as possible. Be warned, you will suffocate!
    Well said!

  8. UmmON says:

    @AV: I’ve seen you in action! The way you’ve turned around kids. Hats off!
    @RB: Yeah, even very recently, heard that bit about marriage sorting out issues, from some very well educated folks.
    @IHM: TY

  9. Kamini says:

    I agree with you completely.
    But I also feel very strongly that the strongest influence comes from the parents. In these matters, children take their cues from their home environment. No amount of inclusion in schools will have the desired impact if at home the parents – deliberately or inadvertently – introduce or reinforce prejudices and stereotypes.

  10. institutrice says:

    Children should be, and in the USA are guaranteed the right to be, included in the mainstream classroom. HOWEVER, the rights of one DO NOT outweigh the rights of many. The safety and education of the other students cannot and should not be jeopardized because of one differently-abled student. As the work gets harder, or the other students mature and the differently-abled child is still functioning with the mentality of a three year-old, parents need to step back and do what is right for their child AND the other children in the class. When I have to ignore bright, capable students to explain to an eleven year-old in 5th grade that 2 is more than 1 – and she doesn’t get it – that takes away from everyone’s education, including her own.

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