Monday, November 23, 2009


For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for my next post on the Bhagirathi valley, it will come. I am not done with the series and the next post is about Mukhba.
This is in the nature of a break from our scheduled programme. I need to tell you of a lecture I went to today. It was organized by the Latika Roy Foundation as part of their Distinguished Lecture Series on Education and Inclusion.

The lectures LRF organises are wonderfully thought-provoking. This time as well, the panel of speakers had a lot of exclamation and interrogation marks popping up in my head.

There was a space of time though, when I was also angry. This was during a discussion of the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan. The SSA (education for all) is the Government program to ensure that every child has access to education. I have already commented on their token efforts at ‘access’- ramps in district schools.

And so, when the speaker began talking of a concerted ‘micro-planning’ attempt at identifying children with special needs, I perked up and began paying attention. I shouldn’t have, because then he went on to say how ‘these children would be identified and placed in a special classroom’. Now it is possible that I did not catch all that the program entailed, and also expected that all of the plans cannot be fit into one-third of a slide. But that statement made a lot of warning bells go off in my head.

One assumes that by ‘these children’ he means all those that need to make more effort to live in this imperfectly designed world of ours. He means the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, those who have problems with mobility, those with cognitive problems, autistic children- all those who do not fit into the paper-cutout model that is so convenient for planners. So all these children, with their whole spectrum of needs are to be lumped into one class and taught together, presumably by a tired teacher on her punishment shift. And if this diverse bunch is to be grouped together, what is the common factor among them? Being ‘imperfect’? ‘Defective’? Is it only me, or does this logic have disturbing shades of that which led to an exercise of weeding out the imperfect that was carried out 65 years ago and scarred humanity forever?

Now as I said earlier, I might have heard wrong. I sincerely hope I did. I am also naturally pessimistic. Now Jo, determinedly sunny person that she is, is bound to have a different take on it. so do me a favour. Her blog, By Little and By Little,  is listed on my sidebar. Keep an eye on it for the next few days and for fairness’ sake please read her version of events.

But I am glad I stayed, because the next speakers were stellar. The chief speaker was informative, engaging and enthusiastic. The take-away from her talk was a set of three tools that you (thump!)can (thump!) do TOMORROW! The concepts that she spoke about though, had been covered in detail and with great passion by two earlier speakers who were introduced as (among other things) ‘Parents’.

Now I need to confess to bristling when I heard this. The thing is that far too often I have been the victim of benevolent panel-making. “This is the Exalted Grand Supreme Commander of XYZ, bow to him! And this is A Woman Engineer! Look at her pretty saree!’ In this case I was gloriously, gladly wrong.

These two were parents, and that lay at the heart of their expertise. They spoke with conviction, confidence, wisdom and energy of the core of inclusive education. ‘Special’ is not an euphemism, they said. Every child is special. Every child learns differently. Education is a fundamental right- for all children. The system is failing to deliver- for all children. We need to re-evaluate the goal of learning. They had learnt from life and from struggling to educate their children, and their body language showed it. I was educated, inspired, and after the SSA experience, reassured.

But the evening does not end there. While returning, I caught a Vikram. After picking me up, the driver did not continue on his route, but proceeded to lecture the other two passengers. They were students in their teens still wearing their uniforms, and were eating groundnuts. They had also thrown the shells where they sat, and that earned them the driver’s wrath. He spoke at some length about why not to litter, and ended bitterly with ‘ and you are studying at school! Why should I have to teach you these things?’ “Why not?” I thought “Educators, they are where we meet them.”

This is a much longer post than I normally write. But I returned a couple of hours ago outraged, excited, and bursting at the seams with thoughts. The LRF lectures do that to one.


Anonymous said...

a woman engineer.

and look at her pretty writing.

really good post.

agree about the children

liked the last bit about the Vikrameducator.


Jo Chopra McGowan said...

I only saw this NOW! Over a year later. Thanks for this - it's an excellent overview of that evening. Really enjoyed re-living it. Am sending Martha Rose the link.