As Kerala is about to bounce back into the old schedules of offline schooldays, the children are jubilant with the hopes of getting back with their friends and teachers. ‘I am waiting for the classes to resume. I miss the times we used to spend together at schools with friends and teachers. Learning with them was easier as I could more rely on my friends. Once school reopens, I wish to be more connected with them.’ said Amrutha, a fifteen-year-old with slight learning disabilities, hopeful about the days ahead. The happiness in her voice is most precious, though not without some worries about managing the lessons ahead. She had secured a bunch of big grades for her matriculation. But, she admits that learning away from schools was tough, making her concerned whether it would affect her studies further. 

The Covid situation had been very difficult for children in general. This was particularly so for those with disabilities. Amidst the pandemic, parents, Doctors and experts have raised their fears over this issue. According to the Disability Census Report of India 2016, Kerala has 82,558 disabled children, below the age of 14. This includes children with both physical and intellectual disabilities, going to regular schools, special schools, and those not going to schools. The efforts towards integrating them into our educational system are crucial, as it is also about getting them more included in society.

PARIVAR Kerala is a parents’ help group actively engaged in working for the rights of intellectually disabled children. Visvanathan, General Secretary of PARIVAR, Kerala says, ‘We must look forward to the idea of inclusive education. For this, physical disability and intellectual disability must be separately understood. The larger vision is to get our children more self-sufficient in their surroundings. Though children with more difficulties need special schools itself, the thrust must be to increase the interface between our children with regular schools.’

The Kerala state had different schemes to provide support to disabled children during the pre-Covid scenario. Among the special schools, the BUDS schools that started in 2004 have been much praised. BUDS as a project deal with intellectually disabled people, and the BUDS schools cater to both children and adults. They have been conceived under the Kudumbasree-LSGI model, and are free and open to all. The parents are also part of these schools as they take turns to take care of the children at BUDS. In regular schools, resource teachers are appointed for their particular assistance. But, this hadn’t been effectively implemented in many of the schools. ‘Often the Teacher is given many other responsibilities, and sometimes it is upon one teacher to take care of two schools. Also, the post isn’t permanent.’ – said Visvanathan

An annual scholarship of Rs 28,500 had been given to the disabled children by Kerala Government, through LSGD. The Social Justice Department had launched the Aswasakiranam scheme under which a monthly allowance of Rs 600 is given to those who take care of disabled children. But these involved some loopholes too. The Aswasakiranam funds had been regular initially. Tara, mother of a charming eight-year-old Ramya with autism says, ‘It was given every month. But gradually the duration between months increased, it became once in two months, later once in three months, and slowly was almost cut off.’

Children with disabilities are as much a part of our society as other children are. Education is their right, and it is upon the government to protect it even amidst challenges. In the pre-Covid scenario itself, there had been many gaps in the efforts to support them. As the pandemic hit, sweeping changes have been made in our routine. Schooling was initially paused and later swapped to the online mode. Had the shift been effective for the disabled children or not, need to be seriously looked into as we plan to bring back our offline schedules of schooling. Once the school reopens, the disabled children must have equal access to the schools and learn as their fellow mates.


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