Experts Call For Truly Inclusive School Education System And A Change Of Focus From Access To Quality

Experts say, there is a difference between integration and inclusion, call for more budget provisions to enable truly inclusive education.

R Subrahmanyam, Secretary - Higher Education, MHRD addresing valedictory session.

Teacher education experts at the International Conference titled “Journey of Teacher Education: Local to Global” organised by National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) made a strong pitch to create a more inclusive school education system in India, focussed on the needs of children belonging to minorities and disadvantaged groups and students with special needs.

Forty renowned experts from India and abroad deliberated for two days upon key areas related to teacher education in India. The global event, attended by 1300 delegates, was organised by NCTE to celebrate the silver jubilee of its establishment in 1995. 

Speaking at the valedictory session, R. Subrahmanyam, Secretary, Dept. of Higher Education, MHRD, said, “While problems today are interlinked and global in scale, the solutions have to be local and rooted in one’s own ethos and realities on the ground. The same is true for education too. While education is globalising rapidly, it has to be in conformity with local needs, and challenges have to be considered as opportunities."

"India is today undergoing a unique demographic transition. While the proportion of dependent population is going down, that of the working population is increasing. Families are getting smaller and have more surplus income that is being invested into education of children. This is a big opportunity for the education sector and education technology companies to grow. It is up to us to use or lose this unique virtuous cycle. It is estimated that one-third of growth of East Asian countries was accounted for by investments into education, technology, and skills. India needs to learn lessons from such global success stories. A study found that the cognitive abilities of Indian students lag behind by 2.5 standard deviation from the global average. This shows the need for a major change in the pedagogical system followed by our schools,”  he added.

NCTE was established on 17th August 1995 and was tasked with achieving planned and coordinated development of teacher education system throughout the country and maintenance of norms and standards therein.

Stressing on the importance of inclusive education, Dr. T Vijaya Kumar, Head – Center for Equity and Social Development, National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Telangana, said, “The UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 4 mandates inclusive and equitable education for all by 2030. India in the last 20 years has managed to create a physical access to education for most children, but social access is still lacking. Many children are still out of school. Even those who are in school suffer from out-of-class situation who have the abilities of a much lower class than that they are currently studying. India is facing the challenge of schooling without learning. The focus now needs to shift from access to quality of education in schools through better teacher training. Education of children with special needs does not seem to be a priority for the government. For example, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has spent only 3% of its budget on this issue in the last 18 years. We need funds, resources and a huge attitudinal change among stakeholders, education officers and governing bodies for overcoming barriers facing inclusive education in India.” 

NCTE also serves as an advisory body to Central and State Governments to ensure the maintenance of standards and quality in Teacher Education.

Sudesh Mukhopadhaya, former Chairperson, Rehabilitation Council of India, said, “There is a difference between integration and inclusion in education. While integration is only about keeping students with special needs in regular classes and teaching them the way one would teach any other student, inclusion is all about sensitizing and equipping the teachers about the right way to handle and empower such students.”

The mandate of NCTE is very broad and covers the entire gamut of Teacher Education programmes, including research and training of persons to equip them to teach at pre-primary, primary, secondary and senior secondary stages in schools as well as non-formal education, part-time education, adult education and distance education courses.

Dr. Simmi Mahajan, Project Head (Inclusion), Sri Aurobindo Society, expressed, “There are many challenges in making education inclusive in India. The government needs to have special budget provisions for not just deploying more special educators in schools, but also training regular teachers too. The distribution of specialized resources is sporadic and still doesn’t percolate down to the local administration. Schools are not equipped with the kind of tools needed to be made available to teachers for effective inclusion. While government schools are mandated to have inclusive programs, private schools are still shrugging off their responsibility to establish an all-inclusive model.”

Dan Alluf, Counsellor, Embassy of Israel, commented, “Students with disabilities bring new strength into the classroom and inclusion is a delightful experience. Strategies to help stakeholders to better understand a child with special needs include engaging with and observing children with special needs, being flexible, and having a positive attitude. Such students face many challenges such as not understanding social codes, reacting to situations, communicating effectively, and even difficulty in establishing eye contact. Hence the inclusion program must be implemented from early childhood itself. While kindergarten education should be restricted to integrating children with special needs with activities of regular children, primary and high school education should focus more on personal programs created by therapists imparting life skills.”

Teacher education institutions in India currently offer 17 Teacher Education programmes recognized by NCTE for prospective school teachers.

Talking about the internationalization of teacher education in India, Dr. Baby Sam Samuel, Chairman, Indian Schools of Oman, Oman, said, “The best route for teachers to go from local to global, especially in pre-service training phase, is to enroll in skill development programs such as global best practices, research, international curriculum, and performance measurements. They also need to acquire bi-lingual proficiency, especially in a foreign language. The Government needs to introduce tests such as the CAT, harmonized across the country at the national and state level as well as provide exposure to international cultures and cultural sensitivities training.” 

Craig Kissock, Emeritus Professor, University of Minnesota, USA, said, “Our educators create the future, hence they should think and act globally and implement and learn locally. I suggest the creation of a virtual international (global) teacher education center in India which will solve the problem of reaching out to the many teachers who want to teach in other nations.”

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