Inclusive education is defined as a system of learning which includes everyone, and one that can cater to the learning needs of Children with Disabilities (CwD). India has asserted its commitment to inclusive education by agreeing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UNESCO Salamanca Statement. Being a signatory to the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it also has a commitment to work towards inclusiveness in all spheres in the near future. Additionally, domestic legislations—Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE), Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWD), and National Trust Act, 1999—mandate ‘reasonable accommodation’ of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. However, in reality, these children fall through the cracks of the system. It is estimated that only 50 percent of people with disabilities are literate, and fewer still would have had the opportunity to study in a truly inclusive school.

As education in India and across the world shifted online in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was accompanied by a rise of EdTech and e-learning platforms. This also brought into sharp focus the impact of unequal access to education and the growing digital divide. Several studies, including the ones by ASTHA in Delhi, Swabhiman in Orissa, and Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy across the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, were conducted in India during the pandemic to assess the difficulties being faced by children with disabilities to access education during this time.

Pacta, in collaboration with Dr Kirthika Rajaraman, carried out research to study the impact of COVID-19 on inclusive education for children (aged 6-14) with Neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD)—including autism, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities—in the state of Karnataka. The field study was conducted in rural and urban Karnataka. A total of 35 primary subjects were surveyed, 17 of whom were parents of children within the research demographic and 18 were teachers engaged with children within the research demographic. Six other stakeholders were also interviewed for a comprehensive analysis. This study—funded by Azim Premji University—concluded that there is a looming threat to inclusive education practices and their manifestation in the post-pandemic school. A combination of short-and long-term strategies to drive and improve the participation of children with disabilities in the education system is the need of the hour.

Read the full article about inclusive education by Dr. Kirthika Rajaraman and Nivedita Krishna at India Development Review.