HYDERABAD: Education of children with disabilities (CWDs) was among the most-affected segments of life during various phases of the Covid-linked lockdown, a study by an independent agency in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala has found.
The study was done by a team of the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy led by Nisha Vernekar between September and October. It aims to document the challenges faced by students with disabilities in accessing education during the pandemic season. The team said they also documented other disruptions in lives of CWDs, their families and teachers during the term – the economic and health shocks, lack of access to food, medical care and rehabilitation – and the implications of these on their educational pursuits.
Non-availability of appropriate teaching materials, inability to understand lessons or complete assignments, lack of substitutes or interpreters on TV lessons for children with hearing and visual impairments, lack of social interaction were wide-spread among children with intellectual disabilities during this period.
Teachers and caregivers echoed the issues of these children vis-a-vis the digital mode of instruction. This mode offered limited opportunities for a two-way interaction between the teacher and the pupils. Lack of guidelines from the government for the education of such children was evident, with the exception of Kerala. Experts expressed their concern that the lockdown conditions aggravated erratic behaviour among kids with disabilities.
The team made its recommendations to the ministries of education both at the Centre and the states, as also to the ministry of social justice and empowerment. It suggested “greater inclusion” for children with disabilities by identifying their needs through face-to-face interaction, or by remote mode, but without compromising on quality. Children with disabilities are at high risk of dropping out, and many have discontinued education during the pandemic.
The team said the way forward is to reopen hostels/residential schools for older CWDs by following Covid-19 protocol.
It stressed the need for prioritising the transportation needs of children with restricted mobility, ensuring that schools have appropriate teaching material accessible to children with visual or hearing impairments, and installing appropriate infrastructure to facilitate physical access for CWDs.
The team also recommended making digital modes of education inclusive and accessible, enabling two-way interaction between students and teachers through home visits, a follow-up on calls or messaging applications, employing sign language interpreters, using pre-recorded videos or television lessons, and assessing the possibility of providing devices/ internet to vulnerable households wherever possible.