As Covid-19 has caused a stir globally, we have learnt of new and innovative ways to adapt to the situation. One of these include the promotion of remote learning, which has not only made the education system more advanced but also helped bridge the gap that exists between mainstream students and the differently-abled.
The India Report Digital Education released on June has a section on Remote Learning Initiative across India by the Department of School Education and Literacy Ministry of Human Resource Development, GOI. It highlights initiatives taken for differently- abled students through One DTH channel, which communicates in sign language, targeting viewers who are deaf.
For visually and hearing- impaired students, study material has been developed in digitally accessible information system and in sign language; both are available on NIOS website/YouTube. While social inclusiveness was a grave challenge in the past for differently- abled students multiple initiatives have come to play making education accessible not just for mainstream candidates but also for the differently- abled.
PM eVidya offers a framework for learning continuum, so that the teaching and learning process is enabled beyond school boundaries for students across the country, including in underresourced communities and for learners with special needs. Another initiative worth mentioning from the report on online inclusive education for children with special needs is Hum Kisi se Kam Nahi – Mera Ghar Meri Pathshala.
The district inclusive education coordinator assigns home tasks and caters to their educational, psychological and physiological needs through popular social media platforms. He/she also provides guidance to parents regarding home-schooling. Access to all resources and reducing the social divide amongst the mainstream students and the differently- abled through Virtual Learning Experience has certainly played a huge role.
The digitised education experience has changed the entire societal dynamics offering know-how to all students reducing class, caste, gender, religion, linguistics, region and disabilities to mere jargons. There are various schemes that have been introduced by the University Grants Commission for the upskilling of differently-abled candidates by offering them financial and social support:
Higher education for persons with special needs
This scheme aims at creating an environment in schools and colleges to enrich higher education experiences for differently-abled students. Creating awareness about their capabilities, construction aimed at improving accessibility, purchase of equipment to enrich learning, etc, are the broad categories of assistance under this scheme. A three-part financial assistance will be offered to students.
Teacher preparation in special education
This scheme is meant for assisting various educational departments to prepare special teachers to teach children with disabilities in both special and inclusive settings. The scheme provides financial assistance to cover BEd and MEd expenses with specialisation in one of the disability areas.
Financial assistance to visually challenged teachers
This scheme helps visually challenged permanent teachers to pursue teaching and research with the help of a reader. It provides teaching and learning aids through an allowance of funds for purchasing Braille books, recorded materials, etc. and thus empowering them by using various aids for teaching, learning and research. Financial assistance under the scheme is available to such universities and colleges which come within the purview of section 2(f) and are fit to receive central assistance under Section 12B of the UGC Act, 1956.
National fellowship for persons with disabilities
Under this scheme, fellowship will be available to students with disabilities who are covered under The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. Thus a person with disability, who wishes to avail the benefits under this act, has to produce a disability certificate from the medical authority notified for the purpose. Even though there might be a few roadblocks in the learning capabilities and the adoption of edtech infrastructure, one must note that such a system is here to stay and the adoption of these is the only way to bring in social inclusiveness. There’s no doubt that the virtual space will slowly but steadily bring in equality for the future generations.
(The writer is president, Narayan Seva Sansthan)