Even as teaching has been shifted to the online mode ever since the schools were shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in March-end, it has exposed many a glaring gap in our learning environment. In the absence of adequate digital tools, props and resources to cater to their special needs, it is children with disabilities who have suffered a big setback in this period. In addition to the general challenge of the digital divide brought on by the large-scale mix of poor Internet penetration and the dire financial condition of parents, they face the hurdle of the courses not having been designed for their comprehension. While the normal virtual lesson comprising a scanned image is just a dark spot for children who are visually challenged, those with hearing or speech difficulties find it impossible to follow the instructions spoken out. The remote method of learning is beyond the reach and grasp of those with special mental faculties.
Most educators are still struggling to adapt to the e-teaching technique, into which they were suddenly pushed, while the parents of children with special needs feel overburdened as they have been forced to put in personal efforts to keep their wards educated. Often, the exercise has frustrating results, as the constraints of limited resources, ability and time boggle them. Sadly, lack of accessibility to education has pushed their children further out to the margins. That they should be so disadvantaged is pitiable, for even in normal times, it is only around 25 per cent of the special children with disabilities whose parents overcome the huge odds at every corner to send them to school.
The authorities have failed these kids by not yet evolving e-programmes for mass home-schooling geared to their specific needs. The ongoing ‘Inclusive Education for Disabled’ initiative in Punjab, for example, is short on the infrastructure required to make education inclusive and accessible universally to the special kids. Covid-19 should spur the government to innovate and tailor its special education programme to benefit them. At stake are lakhs of needy. As per the 2011 Census, there are nearly 79 lakh children with disability, constituting 1.7 per cent of the total child population.
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