Empowered by RTE, two schools for disabled celebrate closure

FP

As the deadline for compliance with the four-year-old Right to Education Act ends on Monday, two schools here are on the verge of shutting down. However, in the case of Saraswati Mandir and Tulip, that is a cause for celebration the result of a "20-year dream" that they never thought possible till the Act mandated education for all without discrimination.

Meant for children with disabilities, 25 per cent of the schools' children have secured admission in regular schools since the RTE came in. The schools are now in the process of transferring their remaining 55 students.

"This is our last academic year. Having propagated the idea of inclusive education for over two decades, it is only natural we adhere to the Right to Education Act, which has an inclusive education policy," says Medha Lotlikar, founder trustee of the Saraswati Mandir Trust, which runs both the Marathi-medium Saraswati Mandir and the English-medium Tulip.

"We have desperate parents coming to us and saying their child has been discriminated against. They complain their child is teased as 'mand buddhi (mentally challenged)'. I tell them if your child has come from a school for mentally challenged, he will be called so. Only if every child gets equal access to education will such a disparity be overcome," says 27-year old Pallavi Lotlikar, project manager at the Trust.

Medha Lotlikar admits, however, that shifting the students to regular schools was not easy. "Lots and lots of counselling went into this. We had to convince each parent about why their child had to be in a regular school and how assimilation was the need of the hour," she says.

While children do face problems when exposed to a new environment, Lotlikar, who holds a masters in mainstream education, adds, "These children need just 100 per cent of what regular children are given. Many of our children who are already in mainstream schools are doing perfectly fine."

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