The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RtE, 2009) vests schools with the moral responsibility of providing quality education to every child. Recognizing the need to prepare teachers to meet the RtE mandate, the Government of Karnataka revised the Diploma in Elementary Education curriculum in 2012. In a marked departure from the existing prescriptive approaches, the revised curriculum has incorporated inclusion from a social justice stance as a permeating principle. This study was taken up to inform the materials and resource development for teacher professional developmentfor a diverse classroom, both for the D.Edprogramme under the revised curriculum as well as for in-service teacher training programmes. To ensure the resources are meaningful it is essential that they not only draw from national and international perspectives, but also include typical classroom scenarios of Karnataka, for teachers to reflect on and plan for an inclusive school setting. Knowledge about the challenges faced by the teachers and common perceptions that student teachers bring to their class rooms is equally important to enable meaningful engagement with the discourse of inclusion.The study was therefore designed to understand:
- Inclusion conceptually from a social justice perspective
- The nature of diversities in a typical classroom
- The needs and challenges of teachers in responding to diverse classrooms
- The perceptions of student teachers towards diversity and inclusive education
The components of the study included literature review, field work, survey and focused group discussions. The highlights of the findings that emerged are as follows:
- Literature review points out that inclusive education is a complex, multilayered notion. It has to be perceived from specific socio cultural contexts and is imbued with meanings construed within those contexts. Hence the intent and purpose of policy directives have to be contextualised and teachers have to be involved in the process of meaning making. Additionally teachers need both space and support in multiple aspects to make inclusive education a reality.
- The field work indicates that at one level, classrooms in Government schools are becoming more homogenised in terms of socio economic backgrounds of children. At the other end diversities in the form of gender, language, age or children’s individual inclinations and so on are not recognised by the teachers. The only marker of diversity that teachers unanimously identify is the intellectual ability of a child, more specifically his/her ability to cope with the schooling process. This ability was attributed either to genetic factors or interest shown by parents towards their wards’ schooling. Interestingly, while many teachers did not specifically know the parental background of individual students, beyond articulating in general that they were daily wage earners or ‘illiterates’, most teachers were able to identify children by their specific jaatis, although this information is not required for records. In general, teachers did not seem to understand children’s need for self esteem and how it affects their emerging identities. For example, they pointed out, unasked for, the so called “slow” learners, in front of the entire class or that a child’s father is an alcoholic. Classroom interactions and pedagogies lacked vibrancy and were largely didactic.
- The survey of student teachers’ perceptions on diversity and inclusion showed that the respondents mostly perceive ‘intelligence’ as the major discriminatory factor. They do not perceive diversity as conducive to learning and strongly feel that teachers cannot cater to children from diverse backgrounds. A majority of student teachers had set biases about minority religion, SC and poverty. But almost all of them think schools are inclusive irrespective of discrimination in society.
- Focused group discussions with practicing teachers and special educators indicated that they too feel schools are inclusive. Like the prospective teachers, they think diversity is a burden although special educators took a more positive stance towards diverse classrooms (but they tended to use diversity and disability interchangeably). As during the interviews with teachers in the field work, teachers were not enthusiastic about trainings. However special educators expressed the need for disability wise training and subject specific resources to cater to them. Despite tremendous challenges, including irregular pay and the adhoc nature of their appointment, special educators had many success stories to share.
- The conceptual understanding of inclusion, in generic terms, gleaned from the literature review has been included in the reading material for student teachers, along with a variety of contextual illustrations. The rich school narratives that the field work yielded can be used as points of discussions for teachers during cluster level meetings. These need to be further augmented (DIETs can take the lead in preparing such narratives, based on their school visits). Similarly, teacher education institutes can use the survey results and supplement it with their own tools to help student teachers articulate their beliefs and biases and reflect on them through extensive readings and discussions. If student teachers have to overcome the ‘apprenticeship of observation’ syndrome, they would need multiple experiences and more importantly, time and a safe place to reflect on them.
Teachers are an integral part of society and reflect its deep rooted beliefs. As Batra (2014) warns, teachers should not become ‘objects of reform’ in an essentially non reformed system. If inclusive education aspires for societal transformation, the entire education system has to undergo reform, using a multipronged approach and build on a variety of contextualized resources.