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A School of Sensitivity

A School of Sensitivity

Author: Ambreesh Mishra
Publication: India Today
Date: October 15, 2007

Introduction: A village school with solutions for differently-abled children shows the way in inclusive education

At first glance Gudbhela High appears to be like any other government school so familiar on India's rural landscape. A closer look though, reveals the difference. In contrast with most government organisations which flounder when it comes to differently-abled children, this institution welcomes them.

The only school in Gudbhela village has come a long way since it was set up in 1955 for primary education. This year as it was upgraded to a high school it went a step further in setting an example of inclusive education. In a small village of 2,500 in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh, the school has ramps and railings to take wheelchair-bound children to every little nook and corner. There are specially-designed toilets with space for wheelchairs and banisters for blind students. The school's computers, which were received under a government grant, have a special software which makes it possible for even blind children to use them.

Raisa Bi, a Class V student who suffered from polio, was unable to attend school because she couldn't use the toilets. "I only used to appear for exams. But, now things are different," she says. Of the 462 enrolled, seven children suffer from some form of disability. Dhapu Bai, a girl from an OBC Khati community, who suffers from disability of the legs, says, "After finishing school, I plan to become a doctor and help others like myself." Kallu, a farm labourer who had left the village for work elsewhere a couple of months back, had to return for the sake of his six-year-old son Irshad, a Class I student. "He is blind and this is the only village that has educational facility for children like him," he says. The efforts are showing. School is no longer a daunting place for these children. Says Principal M.L. Malviya, "By the time we're through, ours will be a model to emulate."

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan has provision for differently-abled children. But usually, the prescriptions are followed only in letter not in spirit. "If in a rare case a school has ramps, they are so poorly designed that even normal students find it hard to negotiate them," says Anil Mudgal, convener of NGO Arushi. In 55 villages of Sehore, Arushi is working in collaboration with a UK-based organisation Leonard Cheshire Intl (LCI) towards inclusive education. "The idea is to take inclusive education right down to the remotest corner and help the physically-challenged right at the start of their schooling," says K.R. Rajendra, LCI's regional representative for South Asia.

Gudbhela High could just show the way.

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