The principles of diversity, equity and inclusion if embedded within the school education system lays the foundation for access to schooling for all, a larger population joining the workforce and opportunities for lifelong learning for all learners. The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 emphasizes that, “Education is the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality” which has implications for development of an inclusive community and society at large. In order for policy to translate to practice, educational barriers, facilities and services for Children with Special Needs (CwSN) must be addressed. The NEP has infused the aspects of disability inclusion throughout the policy document with a dedicated chapter on equitable and inclusive education, focusing on issues, challenges and recommendations for bridging the gaps reducing the disparities in access and participation of all learners. The issues and recommendations for inclusion of underrepresented students groups including children with disabilities has been subsumed in the policy and covered under the SEDGs i.e. Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) which is an umbrella term covering gender identities, socio-cultural and socio-economic identities, geographical identities as well as disabilities.

The Policy advocates the provisions for CwSN as per the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016. Inclusive education broadly encompasses the teaching-learning environment which is welcoming and supports all learners regardless of learning styles, abilities and disabilities. The policy recommends inclusion and equal participation of CwSN across all stages of school education and to that end, endorses a whole school approach to inclusion such as resourcing school complexes and resource centres, engagement of special educators, capacity building of teachers & special educators, teaching-learning materials and co-curricular activities such as arts, sports and vocational education etc., thus equipping all learners with 21st century skills. As per UDISE + 2021-22, there are about 22,66,794 children with special needs (CWSN) students enrolled from pre-primary to class XII.

The Centrally sponsored scheme of Samagra Shiksha, is an integrated scheme of the Ministry of Education for school education catering from pre-primary to senior secondary classes. The scheme aims to universalize access to school education and supports all States and UTs in implementing the recommendations of the NEP. Ensuring equity and inclusion at all levels of school education is one of the major objectives of the scheme. One of the interventions is inclusive education for children with special needs. Under this component, various provisions are made available for the educational needs of CwSN, several activities are covered such as block level assessment camps for disability identification, support for orientation and awareness programs, therapeutic services, sports events and capacity building programs for special educators etc. Further, student specific support is also provided through allowances for escorts, transportation & scribes, aids & appliances, teaching-learning materials and stipend for girls with special needs. Support has also been made available for strengthening of Block resource centres with equipment and TLMs for individualized learning support of CwSN. Further, the scheme also supports provision for building of ramps with handrails and CWSN toilets in schools.

The Ministry of Education is facilitating inclusive quality school education for children with special needs through various ventures and initiatives. Dedicated efforts for student learning support have been undertaken by NCERT such as ePathshala portal (https://epathshala.nic.in/) and mobile app platform to provide free access to the NCERT books and e-content for students, teachers and parents. NCERT textbooks are also available in audio format (https://ciet.nic.in/pages.php?id=audiobook&ln=en&ln=en). Supplementary reading material has also been developed by NCERT. To develop the reading skills in children during the early schooling years, the Barkhaa Series- “a reading series for all” supplementary graded reading material consisting of forty stories has been formulated by NCERT (https://ncert.nic.in/degsn/NCERTBarkhaseries/Start.html). Further, the comic book, ‘Priya- The Accessibility Warrior’ has been created for awareness generation on aspects of accessibility. The key message of the book is “Everyone Needs Accessibility, Accessibility Helps Everyone” (https://ncert.nic.in/ptaw.php). The comic book is available with Indian Sign Language (ISL) explanatory videos. In addition, exploring the world of ISL, a collection of daily use terms in ISL has been developed (https://ciet.nic.in/pages.php?id=sign_language). More than 935 textbook videos, prepared by CIET, NCERT are available on DIKSHA portal along with 10,500 words ISL dictionary (https://ncert.nic.in/ComicFlipBookEnglish/isl_dictionary/mobile/index.html).

The CIET, NCERT has developed the PRASHAST- Pre Assessment Holistic Screening Tool booklet and mobile app covering disabilities as per the RPwD Act, 2016 (https://ncert.nic.in/pdf/DSCS_booklet.pdf). This facilitates early screening for disabilities at school level, leading to certification of children with disabilities. Presently, 4.81 lakh + users have registered on the mobile app. For supporting evaluation based on needs and abilities of children with special needs, CBSE has introduced exam reforms by extending exemptions/concessions such as scribe facility, compensatory time, flexible subject choices, alternate questions/question paper etc. to candidates with disabilities as defined in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Furthermore, several handbooks for teachers on inclusive education are available, including guidelines for developing e-content for CwSN (https://dsel.education.gov.in/sites/default/files/2021-06/CWSN_E-Content_guidelines.pdf), under the PM e-Vidya initiative along with over 600 special sessions on teaching-learning interventions for inclusive classrooms (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUgLcpnv1YidgxeXsFZH045t8584x4Asx).

Disabilities impact access to opportunities for learning and achievement of a learner’s full potential. It is therefore imperative to design a flexible education system that caters to the individual needs and abilities of CwSN. Equitable, inclusive and quality education identifies and attempts to eliminate barriers, promotes a sense of belonging lays the foundation for success ad better learning outcomes for all learners.

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