How India’s higher education system can be made more inclusive for students with disabilities
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year drastically disrupted the global education system across the world. Closer to home, as schools and colleges rapidly shifted to online courses, there was a disproportionate impact on the education of students with disabilities. During the initial phase of the national lockdown, many were unable to attend online classes due to lack of guidelines and lack of tools to facilitate students with specific visual, hearing or learning disabilities .
Not that the previous situation was entirely auspicious, but the pandemic has exposed the dire lack of academic infrastructure for students with disabilities at Indian universities. They suddenly had to face complex challenges; most critical being the lack of access to technology and assistive devices that could have mitigated the “non-inclusive” nature of typical educational content.
Although progress has been made in making education accessible to all – the 2020 National Education Policy included proposals on barrier-free access to teacher education and training programs – the scale and complexity of implementation requires extensive planning and meticulous execution. As higher education institutions (HEIs) aspire to prepare the next generation to become global players, they must also contribute to the creation of an inclusive society.
While most Indian universities have not yet started their courses on campus and use e-learning to ensure the continuation of academic activities, government authorities can take long-term measures that will help establish a process that meets the needs of all learners. One of the key principles of inclusive education is to make arrangements that can give students with special needs full access to adequate services. To achieve this, we need a coordinated approach that makes universal accessibility standards an integral part of pedagogy and teaching methodology in universities. Inter-ministerial coordination would be required for the development of comprehensive standardized guidelines for digital education infrastructure. These guidelines will ensure that digital education in schools and universities is available to learners with disabilities.
In the field, a learning support system must be put in place in each university – public and private. This can be managed by a dedicated office or center that would ensure a smooth transition for students with disabilities, their integration into the social environment of the campus, access to course materials and technologies for an enhanced academic experience, accommodations academic and other educational arrangements. .
A diligent effort to raise awareness and raise awareness of people with disabilities is essential. The stigma of looking or thinking differently from the “accepted” norm must be eradicated and educating people is the first step.
While there are visible disabilities that require an accessible physical and academic infrastructure in HEIs, invisible disabilities such as the autism spectrum, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be understood and viewed as learning and thinking differences. The unique perspectives that all of these students bring to the learning and teaching experiences of the higher education landscape make it a rewarding environment for all, including neurotypical students, faculty, and the community at large.
While systemic change in the higher education ecosystem may take time, breaking with the past and rethinking the world of education, especially after the pandemic, will be a welcome step for all, including people with disabilities.
The writer is an Educational Therapist and Director, Office of Learning Support, Ashoka University.