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How Children with special needs found place in Mumbai Classrooms!

April 6, 2017: For the first 14 years of his life, Javed Shaikhs world was confined to the four walls of his house in Kala Tanki slum in Sewri, South Mumbai. Javed was born with multiple disabilities: He has cerebral palsy with little control over his lower limbs, hearing impairment, and a squint. He spent his days either in bed or watching TV. He could not speak and insisted on eating only Kurkure, a packaged snack.

Today, after therapy and four years in a regular school, Javed is a new person. He doesn’t like missing school and has friends. He can eat and dress on his own, can operate his mobile phone, can lip-read, and can even says a few words. He points at his school bag and prods his mother, Samsunisa Shaikh, if they are getting late. “I had never imagined that Javed would one day go to school,” Samsunisa told IndiaSpend.

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The credit for this turnaround goes in large part to Sunil Bhadane, a special educator, and to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) — which aims to provide quality education to every child aged 6-14 years — which Bhadane works for. He had spotted Javed near his house in Sewri one day, crawling on all fours, and had followed him home.

Javed’s story reveals the possibilities of bringing education to children with special needs, 28.2 per cent of whom are out of school, compared to 2.9 per cent of all children who are out of school.

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The Rs 300 a day that Javed’s father made from working as a porter at the Sewri fish market was hardly enough to feed a family of five, leaving nothing for Javed’s treatment or therapy. Without adequate treatment and nutrition, Javed looked like a child of six, though he was 14 years old.

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Bhadane convinced Javed’s grandmother, as the head of the family, to bring him to a health camp for children with special needs at the Jagannath Bhatankar Municipal Corporation School in nearby Parel.

There, an orthopaedic specialist examined Javed and recommended a hearing aid and leg braces, which are provided free of cost under SSA. A few days later, Bhadane visited Javed’s home again and convinced his grandmother to send him to the “school readiness” classes held at the same school premises in Parel.

That was the first time Javed stepped inside a classroom. This was a class to prepare children with special needs for school. It was here that Javed learned to first sit erect, to eat foods other than Kurkure, and to use the toilet by himself. He was given a hearing aid, sets of school uniform and a school bag, and was formally admitted in Prabodhankar Thackeray Municipal School in Sewri.

The SSA follows an inclusive education model: Children with special needs study in regular classrooms, irrespective of the kind, category and degree of disability, although it does provide for home-based education for severely-disabled children. Since 2012, when the Right to Education Act of 2009 was amended to provide free and compulsory inclusive education for children with special needs, there has been a steady increase in their enrolment in school.

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 In 2003-04, 1.7 million special-needs children were enrolled in school; in 2014-15, the figure had increased to 2.5 million, an increase of 47 per cent over 11 years. Nevertheless, 28.2 per cent of children with special needs remain out of school, according to a 2014 National Sample Survey of Estimation of Out-of-School Children between six and 13 years.

Bhadane is one of 42 special educators who look after over 16,000 children with special needs in Mumbai — one per 400 children. Their job is not to teach but to track children with special needs and guide their teachers. They ensure, for instance, that children with more severe conditions such as multiple disabilities, mental retardation and cerebral palsy get more individualised attention.

Hired on contract, Bhadane earns Rs 20,000 per month — based on an allowance per child — and works six days a week.

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“Parents are often in denial about the condition of their child. We have to convince and counsel them to send the child to school,” Bhadane told IndiaSpend.

In November 2016, when IndiaSpend visited 18-year-old Javed, in school, he sat on the front bench in a Grade IV classroom of the Marathi-medium Prabodhankar Thackeray Municipal School. His class teacher, Charulata Patil, was teaching general knowledge. Javed was writing alphabets in his notebook, and would smile when she called to him. (IANS)

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