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ICT essential for education of disabled

Saroj (name changed), a child with multiple disabilities is silently waiting to attend a classroom with a tablet instead of a typical notebook to communicate with his teachers, do assignments and complete his primary education successfully. Thousands of children like him are waiting for the government to recognize devices like a tablet, laptop as a communication support device (in legislations and in practice) to enable them to avail primary education.

Saroj suffers from autism which has affected his ability for precise locomotor movements and his speech. He speaks using a touchscreen tablet which could recognize input from his gestures which he makes on the tablet, like scratching. He studies in a special school, and wants to attend a normal school and mingle with other children of his age.

Children with autism, cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities suffer essentially from communication disabilities. Even if they understand what is being said to them, they fail to respond, because of their disability. They have a normal mental growth, but have physical limitations. This is why, even if they get enrolled in schools for primary education it becomes difficult for them to complete their education.

Today traditional classroom teaching in higher education is being replaced by ICT-enabled teaching methods to ensure better and effective education. ICT based primary education still is based on audio visual content, and lack the the idea of independent devices to each child. Availing primary education through use of support devices like a tablet remains a far fetched dream for a lot of children like Saroj.

It is further disheartening to know that communication disabilities have not found a place in Indian Census. Figures of the All India Sample Survey estimating number of out of school children in the age group 6-13 years conducted in July-October 2005 says 60.58% of children with multiple disabilities, 47.02% with mental disabilities and 41.57% with speech disabilities are out of school. These figures are high when compared to out of school children with other disabilities.

The 7thAll India Education Survey conducted in Sept. 2002, the Status of enrolment of children with disabilities in schools also reveals that for children with multiple disabilities and intellectual disabilities enrolment decreases sharply from 38,078 and 1,62,513 in primary to 62 and 150 respectively in higher secondary. It should be noted that these surveys do not count children with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple disabilities, dyslexia kind of communication disabilities. These disabilities are broadly included under intellectual, mental and multiple disabilities.

These alarming figures also reveal that our education centers, i.e., schools are badly equipped to handle children with communication disabilities.

In the backdrop of these figures, it must be mentioned that Autism as a disability has not yet been recognized by the government , and thus, provision of disability support devices for children with autism remains a dream. Some time back Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) opted for a total laptop classroom have shown a ray of hope for children like Saroj and many. May be, in the near future, the government will recognize autism as a disability and also accept the laptop as a communication support device for children with autism and other mental challenges.

As per technology experts who have been working with these children unless these children are allowed customized IT solutions for enabling them to communicate themselves, they are in a difficult situation to even continue their primary education.

Examples like SRCC reiterate need of such initiatives in primary education. Only such steps will allow children like Saroj to hope that, some day they might, like Stephen Hawking, not only be able to conquer their disabilities and learn a profession, but also excel at it.

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