“Inclusion is a right, not a privilege for a select few.”
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by United Nation member countries, specifically Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, talks about inclusive and equitable quality education for all. Since inception, Bhumi has strived towards inclusive education through its various initiatives. Over the years, we have observed that not just economic but various socio-demographic factors also hinder equal access to educational opportunities. The Right to Education (RTE) Act, introduced in 2009 allows children with special needs to pursue mainstream education. All students, irrespective of their impairment, should be educated in mainstream schools. The spirit of the Act enshrines in it the belief that when children from different backgrounds and abilities, study together in one classroom, they would be able to achieve their highest potential. This would also lead to reducing the social divide in the future.
To sensitise people on various forms of exclusion and to advocate the need for inclusive education for all, Bhumi organised a one-day Symposium on inclusive education. The symposium named, ‘IncludED’, was held on December 6, 2019 in association with Indus Action Group. We had invited 7 speakers from diverse backgrounds and experiences to share their perspectives on inclusiveness.
Ms. Ashweetha Shetty of Bodhi Tree Foundation spoke about systemic exclusion faced by first-generation graduates from rural India, especially girls, due to lack of exposure and equal opportunities. Mr. D Samuel Velanganni, the Tamil Nadu State Convener of Safai Karamchari Andolan, spoke about the challenges faced in integrating children of manual scavengers into the mainstream education system. Mr. Dhamodharan Muniyan of Aid India spoke about the various provisions of the constitution, under RTE and other Acts, that provide for equitable and inclusive education. He further contrasted these provisions with the ground realities as reflected by various studies and government reports. Mr. G. Karthikeyan of Sristi Foundation works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He spoke about how such people are denied their rightful opportunities in the mainstream educational system. Mr. P Rajasekharan of v-shesh spoke about various seen and unseen barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from being part of the general ecosystem. He advocated the need for implementing an inclusive and universal design while coming up with any new system so that everyone can be benefitted. Ms. Vaishnnavi Srinivasan of Bhumi spoke about how we can design systems and processes so that they are inclusive inherently and not as a result of an intervention. Mr. Prasanna from Aram Porul spoke about the concept of inclusion and elaborated that inclusion is not just restricted to a physical inclusion of people but also the inclusion of various interests, ideas and preferences so that no one is excluded for their choices and actions.
We at Bhumi believe, RTE – Right to Education Act is a strong tool to bring about a systematic change towards inclusion. We also had a session facilitated by the Bhumi RTE team, where we presented statistics regarding the implementation of RTE Act in India and measures taken towards spreading awareness among beneficiaries etc. Participants also shared their experience working with the Act.
Representatives from over 40 organisations working in the field of education and child welfare across Tamil Nadu participated in the event. Key participants include representatives from Pratham Education Foundation, Agaram Foundation, Aide at Action, Hand in Hand India, CANDLE (Community Action, Development, Liberative, and Education), Community Health Education Society, Rights Education, and Development centre, CWDR, Youth for Seva and Ramakrishna Mission Students Home. The speaker sessions were interactive with participants posing questions and deliberating on the ideas presented by the speakers.
The symposium exposed participants to various facades of the Idea of ‘Inclusion’ across the spectrums of society. We intend to take this collaboration forward so that various organisations can come together and work towards the common goal of ensuring truly inclusive education for all.
Bhumi, one of India’s largest independent youth volunteer non-profit organisation enables over 30,000 volunteers across 12 cities in India for causes like education, environment, animals and community welfare. Indus Action is working towards helping disadvantaged families gain sustainable access to legislated rights. They launched Project “Eklavya”, to support the effective implementation of the Right to Education Act, 2005.